Pauline Viardot is one of those names that crops up quite a bit when one is researching the opera of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She was a mezzo-soprano of some note, friend (at the least) of both Turgenev and Chopin, hosted a notable Parisian salon and composed; though, being female, she was not taken entirely seriously by the musical establishment of the time. Among her compositions is a “chamber operetta”, Cendrillon, designed for performance at her salon and written when Viardot was already in her eighties. It’s going to be performed again this fall in Mazzoleni Hall at the Royal Conservatory and I sat down yesterday with director Joel Ivany to talk about the issues involved in staging such an unusual piece in a venue that’s not entirely opera friendly.
The piece itself is fairly straightforward. It’s scored for seven soloists and piano (so the absence of a pit in Mazzoleni isn’t a huge problem) and it’s quite short at a little over an hour. Also, in concordance with operetta practice of the time, it uses spoken dialogue rather than recits which, as always, poses the language issue. Do it all in French? Do the dialogues in English? Do the whole thing in translation? Those familiar with Ivany’s work will likely not be surprised that he and music director Peter Tiefenbach have chosen not just to go with English but a “new and improved” translation developed in collaboration with the performers.
The staging will necessarily be constrained by the limited facilities of Mazzoleni but the architecture of that part of the RCM, the original building, will allow some spilling out in the lobby and approach areas to build the salon atmosphere. For the same reason the singers will be playing members of Viardot’s salon performing Cendrillon (see the Wiener Staatsoper’s Alcina for a similar approach) though there will be contemporary flourishes.
The title role of Cinderella will be sung by Jonelle Sills, who impressed as the Female Chorus in MYOpera’s The Rape of Lucretia, with the 6’8″ Patrick Simms in the tenor role of Prince Charming. Fortunately, as the baby sister of Toronto actor André Sills, Jonelle is used to dealing with very tall men!
Pauline Viardot’s Cendrillon will be performed at Mazzoleni Hall on November 18th and 19th. Right now opening night seems to be sold out but some tickets are still available for the 19th.