Cinderella

Nicolò Isouard

Information

Cinderella (Cendrillon, 1810)
A fairy-tale opera in three acts

Libretto by Charles Guillaume Etienne
after the fairy-tale by Charles Perrault
English translation by Gilly French
Dialogues by Jeremy Gray

Cast

Clorinde Aoife O'Sullivan
Tisbe Jenny Stafford
Cinderella Kate Howden
Prince Bradley Smith
Dandini Benjamin Durrant
Alidor Nicholas Merryweather
Baron Alistair Ollerenshaw
Chorus Lucy Cronin, Susanne Dymott
   
Conductor Harry Sever
Director Jeremy Gray
Associate director Alicia Frost
Costumes Jess Ilif

 

Synopsis

Act 1
It is morning in the home of the twice-widowed Baron de Montefiascone, a somewhat impoverished member of the gentry, struggling to maintain appearances and gradually drinking his way through his cellars. In the opening Quartet These are perfect buttons and laces the Baron’s older daughters by his first marriage, Clorinde and Tisbe, have received invitations to the Prince’s ball and are excited about the dresses they will wear. They treat their younger stepsister Cinderella as a servant and complain when she repeatedly sings a popular French nursery-rhyme (known as ‘Compère Guilleri), Il était un p’tit homme.  A poor beggar (who later we realise is the Prince’s wise tutor, Alidor, in disguise) seeks food and clothing.  Cinderella generously assists him, whilst the sisters do all they can to send him away. The beggar praises the girl’s warm heart and promises not to forget her kindness. 

The baron’s sleep is disturbed by the noise and he complains angrily about the lack of breakfast.  All blame and berate Cinderella but demand her help.  Whilst they are dressing, Cinderella is startled by the arrival of two gentlemen – Alidor (now as himself), and Prince Ramir who, on Alidor’s advice, is disguised as a squire.  They console Cinderella but are puzzled when she explains she is no longer a daughter of the house; she explains in a Romance: People find me an oddity, with little they can admire.

When she has left to answer the demands of her family, the Prince and Alidor discuss her and the difficulty the Prince feels: he must quickly find a virtuous bride in order to meet the terms of his late father’s will.  They discuss the issues in a Duet: My son, my dearest precious friend, and Alidor promises his continued guidance and friendship.  The Baron and sisters return, and are impressed by Alidor but disdainful of his companion, who appears to be a mere squire.  Clorinde and Tisbe are thrilled to hear that the Prince is on his way to visit and they imagine how he must choose a bride at the ball, who will surely be one of them: Duet What a delight, we will consort with the Prince himself at the Court!

Cinderella helps the sisters to prepare for the ball, whilst longing to attend herself.  The Prince and his retinue arrive – Chorus: That was all most unstressful, a happy time for all, but no-one realises that actually it is Dandini, the Prince’s most pretentious footman, who is in disguise as the Prince.  He flirts with the sisters to their great delight.  In the Finale Come on! –we’re on a mission, all prepare to leave for the Ball; Cinderella is left behind and cries herself to sleep.

Act 2
The scene is an anteroom in the royal Palace. The Act opens with a magical Entr’acte and Dream Chorus: Come sweetest sleep, gently release her.  Cinderella awakens from her sleep and discovers that she is at the Palace, attired magnificently: she becomes aware that it is Alidor who has enabled this transformation, but he attributes all to her innate virtue in a Duet Cherish it well, bountiful kindness. He gives her a magic rose which will protect her and prevent her from being recognised, and advises her to hide for the while. 

Dandini, still disguised as the Prince, flirtatiously greets Clorinde and Tisbe.  Each girl is convinced that she will be chosen as the royal bride and they fight it out in a vivacious Duet Who, you, that is obscene!  When the real Prince, still disguised, attempts to speak to them, they rudely dismiss him as inferior.  Left alone, he ponders the difficulty of finding a true and honest woman: Romance Women are lovely but unkind.  Cinderella overhears him, and plucks up courage to talk to him: her honesty and simplicity touch him.  A fanfare announces that a tournament is about to take place, and the Prince persuades Cinderella to accept him as her champion.  In a Duet Ah, now my victory is promised! Cinderella delights to tell him her motto, ‘Be of a simple kindness’.

Cinderella, now aware and frightened that she is in love, meets her step-sisters who take her to be a magnificent princess.  She gives them precious jewellery as presents and also a piece for their step-sister, despite the Baron’s cruel assertion that she does not belong to his family.  In the Finale To the most exquisite of all, everyone praises the victory in the tournament of the disguised Prince, and celebrate the exquisite beauty of the anonymous Princess.  Entertainment follows as Clorinde and Tisbe dance and sing a Bolero While we invoke the wreathèd Spring; Cinderella also dances, although reluctantly, and the Prince wishes to award her the crown – when he inadvertently reveals to Cinderella his true personality (no-one else appears yet to realise), she runs away in dismay and shock, discarding her magic rose and losing a slipper.  Everyone leaves in confusion.

Act 3 continues in the Palace, but it is now the next day.  Tisbe is alone and in agitation as she realises that the drama of the evening has interrupted her courtship of the ‘Prince’ and that she may have lost her chance: Recitative and Air A nightmare! What an event!  Clorinde has news that the runaway Princess has lost a green slipper in her haste to leave.  The Baron has discovered that Dandini and the Prince had swapped roles.  The Prince is now intent on discovering the owner of the lost slipper, and orders one of the sisters to marry Dandini, and the Baron attempts to maintain royal favour by insisting on the marriage, by drawing lots if necessary; the girls are horrified.  Cinderella returns from home, in her usual work clothes, bravely answering the royal proclamation that all noble ladies should attend at the Palace.  She is mocked by her sisters, who try to force her to marry Dandini: Trio Marry him, I say!

The Prince encounters Cinderella – he recognises her, but not as the mysterious Princess.  She pretends that she stayed at home and dreamed about the events of the Ball.  The two sing a curiously oblique love Duet: I think you loved her very dearly, as Cinderella is sadly convinced that he thinks only of the pretend Princess and cannot love her for herself.  In the Finale, Now’s the time for preparation, everyone is confused as to Cinderella’s identity.  At last Alidor intervenes – he holds the magic rose, and announces a contest for the hand of the Prince: whoever fits the discarded slipper merits the rose and the crown.  Cinderella reveals that she has the other slipper of the pair.  She receives the rose from Alidor; the Prince accepts her as his bride and she is recognised as the mystery princess.  She shares forgiveness, enlightenment and joy with family and friends.

Reviews

...vibrant and witty
Classical Source 20 July 2018

X

...vibrant and witty

Classical Source 20 July 2018

Rossini had a knack for taking on and ousting established favourites of the operatic repertoire. Just as his settings of The Barber of Seville and, to some extent, Armida, knocked earlier versions of those dramas firmly into the shadows, so his treatment of the Cinderella story (La Cenerentola) quickly and comprehensively overtook the earlier and celebrated setting by Nicolo Isouard (1810) whose libretto was also the source for Rossini’s stage-work.
 
Hailing from Malta, Isouard (1773-1818) settled in Paris in 1799 and composed operas prolifically until his death, Cendrillon receiving its premiere at the Théâtre Feydeau. It is a more succinct setting than Rossini’s in that it alternates faster-paced numbers with spoken dialogue, like a Singspiel, although originally in French. The attractively melodious character of its music, and the number of ensembles (as opposed to arias) particularly in the extended Finales of all three Acts make the work rather Mozartean in style – the narrative may be more comically vigorous and light-hearted like the Da Ponte operas, but the Classical poise of some of the music is redolent of The Magic Flute. Far from constituting merely second-rate Mozart, however, the score has considerable charm of its own, such as the inclusion of a harp in the Overture and in the enchanting opening of Act Two as Cinderella wakes up and finds that she is now finely arrayed in the Prince’s palace.
 
Fortune did not favour the presentation of Jeremy Gray’s production outside in the Deanery Gardens at Bampton, as rain during Act One forced us to take refuge in the dry of the adjoining church for the remainder, effectively becoming a semi-staged performance. Even so, the transformation was rendered effectively from the drab domestic interior of the Baron de Montefiascone’s residence and Cinderella’s home (mirrored with unintended, ironic pathetic fallacy in the cloudy weather above) to the colour of the ball and Cinderella’s subsequent recognition in the two succeeding Acts, with the Prince’s green suit complementing Cinderella’s slipper. The Bolero at the end of Act Two gives the opportunity for some choreographic vivacity as Tisbe leads the dance, for which there was space in the church.
 
Kate Howden’s Cinderella is musically sensitive, though still providing fire as necessary, but Aoife O’Sullivan and Jenny Stafford as her haughty stepsisters certainly offer steely even brash contrast, particularly when they come to jealous blows as they compete for the attentions of Dandini, believing him to be the Prince. Benjamin Durrant plays up the playboy glamour of that role, allied to suitably sonorous and persuasive singing.
 
Bradley Smith’s Prince is quietly expressive as befits the fact that during the all-important ball scene, he keeps his real status hidden as he searches for true love. Where Nicholas Merryweather also exudes understated but reassuring authority as the Prince’s tutor, Alidoro, Alistair Ollerenshaw takes the part of the impoverished Baron with a comically hectic impatience, driven by the maddening self-awareness of his declining social position as he seeks to promote his two older daughters’ prospects in relation to the Prince.
 
Despite the necessarily reduced orchestration, Harry Severs still draws a generally enlivened account of the score that sustains the narrative within the stretches of music among the dialogue. The warmly integrated tone of the horns provides further colour in what is, overall, a vibrant and witty interpretation of an operatic rarity, possibly receiving its UK premiere.
X

Curtis Rogers

 

Bampton's mission...is vindicated once again
Bachtrack 23 July 2018

X

Bampton's mission...is vindicated once again

Bachtrack 23 July 2018

2018 marks the 25th anniversary of Bampton Classical Opera, who specialise in “breathing new life” into rare 18th-century opera. This year’s offering ticks both boxes: it’s the little-known Cendrillon of Franco-Maltese composer Nicolò Isouard, the opera on which Rossini based his blockbuster hit La Cenerentola, which swiftly pitched Isouard’s Cendrillon into obscurity. However, before Rossini’s ravishing Cenerentola swept the stage, her now-unknown French forbear was the star of an acclaimed opera féerie (fairytale opera) which received more than an hundred packed-out performances in Paris before its eclipse. 
 
Cendrillon contains all the Enlightenment ideas for which La Cenerentola is so justly celebrated, substituting the wise philosopher Alidor for the fairy godmother, having the Prince swap identities with his valet Dandini for most of the story, but also adding in a Sandman for some fairytale sparkle. If you know Cenerentola well, it feels familiar, but still has a few surprises in store: Cendrillon’s plot feels more balanced, its characters less extreme and more human. There are no chimes at midnight: Cinderella runs away in fear from the ball when she discovers her beloved’s true identity, not believing she could ever be a princess.
 
Gilly French provides a fresh, crisp English translation of Charles Guillaume Etienne’s libretto, with a little original French retained here and there for comic effect (the key joke being that Cinderella’s ghastly sisters can’t speak French). With a strong pulse of rhyme, French’s translation slides from noble simplicity (“Be ever assured: you are the one that heaven chose”) to contemporary playfulness (“What a nightmare!”), giving the opera an accessible feel. French’s translation is elastic enough for the confident cast to insert topical jokes, too: on the opening night, possibly the opera’s UK première, the rain poured unhelpfully down on Bampton’s exquisite Deanery Garden, but spontaneous umbrella jokes (rhyming nicely with ‘Cinderella’) were out in force. Both the fine cast and the Orchestra of Bampton Classical Opera, conducted with vigour by Harry Sever, remained magnificently professional under rising deluge conditions on the outdoor stage, and audience spirits were not in the least dampened (though pretty much everything else had been) as we filed into the mercifully dry church after the interval for Acts 2 and 3. After all, it would hardly be English summer opera without an occasional spot (or downpour) of rain.   
 
Jeremy Gray’s direction imbues Cendrillon with plenty of life: acting is natural and expressive, with some zingy choreography (particularly for stepsister Tisbe’s tango at the all-important ball) and regular touches of comic silent stage business. Gray’s design recalls Cinderella’s folk history, with a tree bearing golden apples outside the kitchen where our heroine prays to her mother, while costumes have a 1950s feel. Gray unfailingly builds his cast into a confident, enthusiastic team: we get a true ensemble piece in which singers support one another as well as shining in their own right. Nicholas Merryweather was on top form as Alidor, his virile baritone glowing with drama and warmth as the wise philosopher benevolently brings about happiness for his young charges, taking a paternal interest in Cinderella as well as Bradley Smith’s charming, tender Prince, who struck just the right note of humility and courage with his flowing, expansive tenor. Smith’s compulsive, magnetic attraction to his Cinderella was a delight, scarcely able to tear his eyes from hers, their mutual infatuation palpable.
 
Kate Howden’s Cinderella came across with charming simplicity, her graceful, generous mezzo well suited to the part; Howden’s spoken acting did not match the emotional sophistication of her singing, but this worked here, her uncomplicated approach simply underlining Cinderella’s artless innocence. Cinderella’s soprano stepsisters, all snarls, curlers and vintage copies of Vogue, were brilliantly portrayed by Aoife O’Sullivan as Clorinde, the sister whose penchant for singing translates into a self-consciously stellar aria at the ball, and Jenny Stafford as Tisbe, the sister who relies on her dancing to catch the Prince’s eye, later getting a fabulous aria of her own as she furiously reflects on a disastrous night. O’Sullivan and Stafford both revelled in the inner nastiness of these silly, selfish girls while relishing their frankly sumptuous music.
 
Baritone Alistair Ollerenshaw, his deft characterisation nicely louche, makes you wish Baron de Montefiascone had a rather bigger part – Rossini made the right change here. Benjamin Durrant’s suave and delightfully oily Dandini pranced through the ball ably kindling jealousy between Tisbe and Clorinde, with Lucy Cronin and Susanne Dymott providing able assistance as court ladies and the Sandman.
 
Isouard’s score is lyrical, elegant and satisfying, with a painterly Dream Sequence at the opening of Act 2; it’s no wonder the French took it straight to their hearts. Bampton’s “mission to rescue unjustly neglected classical period opera” is vindicated once again.
 
X

Charlotte Valori

 

...purposeful and engagingly staged
The Stage July 2018

X

...purposeful and engagingly staged

The Stage July 2018

Had Rossini not composed Le Cenerentola in 1817, it’s possible that the most famous operatic version of Perrault’s fairytale Cendrillon would be the one composed seven years earlier by French-Maltese composer Nicolo Isouard. But the overwhelming success of Rossini’s opera, more in tune with the bel canto style of the era, caused Isouard’s once-popular opera to fade from memory until recently.
 
The modern revival of Isouard’s tuneful little charmer was kick-started in 1998 with a recording by Richard Bonynge. Thanks to Bampton Classical Opera, which has been presenting neglected and unknown operatic repertoire for 25 years, the opera is enjoying what is probably its UK premiere. Sung in English, with translations by company artistic directors Gilly French and Jeremy Gray, Cinderella rarely sets a slipper wrong.
 
It is of course a slipper – a green one – that finally unites Prince Ramir (Bradley Smith) and Cinderella (Kate Howden, with a supple mezzo-soprano). The happy ending does not come before some travail, however. Cinderella is tormented by her Vogue-reading step-sisters, the scene-stealing Clorinde (the elastic-voiced Aoife O’Sullivan) and Tisbe (the hilarious Jenny Stafford).
 
There’s contrasting gravitas from Bampton regular Nicholas Merryweather, who possesses a warm, reliable baritone, as Alidor, the prince’s advisor and Cinderella’s fairy godfather.
 
On opening night, despite a downpour that necessitated a move from the uncovered outdoor stage to nearby St Mary’s Bampton, the cast stuck closely to Jeremy Gray’s purposeful stage direction. Plaudits also to the cast for an ambitious bolero, choreographed by Alicia Frost and danced nimbly in the crowded space at the front of church.
 
The rain did not dampen the spirits of the audience, however, and, as Gray said once audience, cast and orchestra had shifted to the church, the rain had inspired him to find a new word to rhyme with “Cinderella”: “umbrella”.
X

Inge Kjemtrup

 

Bravo...
Opera, October 2018

X

Bravo...

Opera, October 2018

The grey sky suggested that we might not get to go to the ball after all. After weeks of unbroken sunshine, the clouds massed and burst at Bampton, threatening to deluge the first performance of Bampton Classical Opera’s 25th-anniversary production: Cinderella, by the Franco-Maltese Nicolò Isouard, who died 200 years ago at the age of 42. We huddled under brollies during Act 1, as the patter on plastic ponchos became a drum-beat. But any audience pessimism failed to reckon with BCO’s resourcefulness. All it took was a little silver fairy-dust, sprinkled from a twirling parasol over the sleeping Cinders, and we were inside the beautiful medieval church of St Mary.
 
Isouard’s three-act opéra-féerie was premiered at the Opéra-Comique on 22 February 1810. Maltese born and educated in France and Italy, following the invasion of the French in 1798 Isouard collaborated with the conquerors and moved to Paris, where he became one of the principal composers of opéra comique—the entertainment of choice for the post-Revolutionary bourgeois—during the Napoleonic Empire. His Cendrillon was popular throughout Europe and even reached the US, but when the libretto, by Charles-Guillaume Étienne, was picked up by Rossini for his own Cenerentola of 1817, Isouard’s opera and name gradually fell into obscurity.
 
Act 1 opened inside the home of the pompous Baron de Montefiascone—exuberantly played by the bass Alistair Ollerenshaw—whose 1970s woolly wallpaper sported a palpably misplaced sampler, ‘Home Sweet Home’. As Kate Howden’s Cinderella laboured over her infinite chores, she was cruelly baited by Clorinde (Aoife O’Sullivan) and Tisbe (Jenny Stafford). The sisters’ ugliness is on the inside, and though their towelling dressing-gowns and fluffy slippers got a bit soggy in Act 1, they looked and sounded chic at the ball. O’Sullivan and Stafford had the best of the music—the viciousness is in the virtuosity: the sopranos blended pointedly in the twists and twirls of their duets and excelled in their characterful solos, which contrast devilish intent and despondency. They got their comeuppance when their pushy pursuit of the tenor Benjamin Durrant’s Dandini, a John Travolta-cum-Liberace in floral suit and princely medallion, was exposed as imprudent.
 
The unassuming sweetness of Howden’s Cinders was matched by the sincerity and directness of Bradley Smith’s Prince Ramir. Nicholas Merryweather was equally adept in rags and beanie hat (as the disguised Alidor) and in stylish tails (as the Prince’s wise mentor), his warm baritone and shapely phrasing evincing a touching compassion. The conductor Harry Sever was alert to the needs of both the singers and the instrumentalists of the orchestra, particularly after the move to the church nave, and drew lovely colours from the latter with horns and harp especially noteworthy. The small chorus (Lucy Cronin, Susanne Dymott) provided commendable lullabies and laudations.
 
The director-designer Jeremy Gray’s customary wit was in evidence (he had also translated the dialogues, with Gilly French providing the sung texts), as Prince and pauper bonded over a game of chess. When the Prince made Cinderella his ‘White Queen’, with the presentation of an outsize chess-piece, his confession of identity sent her running off in a spin. However, the slipper test was passed with the flourish of a sparkling green stiletto: a perfect fit and conclusion.
 
Though Isouard’s musical skills may be fairly perfunctory, this score has grace and charm. The adversities faced and overcome here whetted the appetite for the company’s performance of the opera at St John’s Smith Square in September. Bravo to the talented young cast, who interpolated some weather-related quips and dealt with the unpredictable circumstances with panache. And, bravo Bampton Classical Opera for waving the magic wand once again. 
 
X

Claire Seymour

 

great spirit...
MusicOMH, 18 September 2018

X

great spirit...

MusicOMH, 18 September 2018

Many Rossini fans will claim that his decision to steer clear of magical elements in La Cenerentola, as were prevalent in Charles Perrault’s fairy-tale of 1697, represented his own preference for keeping it real. The truth, however, is either more prosaic or more fascinating depending on one’s point of view. The composer and his librettist Jacopo Ferretti had only weeks to deliver their opera in 1817, and so to save time they worked closely from a model that already existed. This was Nicolò Isouard’s Cendrillon of 1810, with a libretto by Charles Guillaume Étienne, and the similarities are plain to see. The heroine may be called Angelina in Rossini’s version (she has no title other than Cendrillon in Isouard’s), but the names of Clorinda, Tisbe, Ramiro, Dandini and Alidoro all come directly from the earlier creation.

It is therefore ironic that the thing that stopped Isouard’s hitherto irresistible opera in its tracks was Rossini’s own version of the same story. Cendrillon had been immensely popular at the Palais Garnier when it premiered in 1810, and every performance there over the following three years saw a massive demand for tickets. Born in Malta, but writing the majority of his forty-five operas in Paris, Nicolò Isouard is hardly a household name today. In his time, however, he was highly acclaimed, and still enjoys a bust on the Palais Garnier, a grave in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, and a music club and bus stop that bear his name in Malta.

Clearly, Isouard deserves some rehabilitation, and happily Bampton Classical Opera, which in the twenty-five years since it was founded has brought three Salieri operas to the British public’s attention, is here to provide it. Cendrillon, which features spoken dialogue rather than recitative, was written in the then popular opéra-comique style, and stands somewhere between the worlds of Mozart, which preceded it, and bel canto that was to follow. There are some amazing innovations, and the Overture is practically unique in opera in essentially sounding like a concertante for horn and harp.

Overall, however, the opera mixes styles so that the two ugly sisters (both sopranos) indulge in lavish coloratura, while Cendrillon’s Act I Romance ‘Je suis modeste et soumise’ is strophic and unassuming to emphasise her innocence and purity. This did lead Weber to deride its ‘insignificant’ melody, but it seems rather an unfair criticism since the approach was so obviously deliberate on Isouard’s part. Many listeners may, in fact, delight more in the opera’s ‘simple’ moments as the Romance, with its moving interlude between each verse, is a prime example of how music does not have to be complex to be exceedingly beautiful.

In other innovations, Clorinde sings a Spanish-style Boléro at the end of Act II, which reflects the taste developed for such music following a visit to Paris in 1809 of the Spanish singer-composer Manuel García. There is also a bitter-sweet edge to Cendrillon and Ramiro’s Act III love duet as she seems aware that the Prince’s emotions are kindled not by her in her drab state, but by his memory of her as the mysterious Princess.

Bampton Classical Opera’s production by Jeremy Gray enjoyed performances in Bampton and Westonbirt in July and August, with this presentation at St John’s, Smith Square constituting the final one in its current run. With the orchestra conducted by Harry Sever, the production was fully staged with a room set left of centre looking suitably grey when constituting the house where Cendrillon had to work all day, and bearing more life-affirming images of roses when representing the palace. The production also introduced additional colour by featuring a tree, representing the burial place of Cendrillon’s mother and providing an additional decoration at the ball, and a silent sandman to sprinkle dust and thus explain why Cendrillon goes to sleep so many times in the plot.

The performance was sung in English with Gilly French and Jeremy Gray’s translation proving skilful. All of the singers performed to a high standard with particular accolades going to Aoife O’Sullivan as Clorinde and Jenny Stafford as Tisbe who had to tackle the most bravura music while being genuinely funny, even floss dancing during the sisters’ Act I duet ‘Ah! quel plaisir’. Kate Howden in the title role revealed a rich and nuanced mezzo-soprano, Bradley Smith was possessed of an aesthetically pleasing tenor as Prince Ramir, while Nicholas Merryweather as Alidor arguably delivered the strongest performance of the evening with his powerful, but smooth and rounded, baritone.

There was a great spirit to the performance with Spanish dancing from the cast accompanying Clorinde’s Boléro. If Cendrillon has ever been described as an opéra-féeriewithout any fairies, given its lack of supernatural elements, it should be remembered that magic can come in many forms. Here, the manner in which the performances in Act II captured the heady excitement of the ball, as well as the nervousness and intrigue inherent in its more intimate moments, cast their own spell.

When Bampton Classical Opera presented Salieri’s La grotto di Trofonio in 2015, one was left wondering why the opera was not in the repertoire today alongside Le nozze di Figaro. Isouard’s Cendrillon does not elicit quite so strong a reaction, but it is thoroughly delightful and a piece that deserves to be heard more often. It did enjoy a new production at the Manoel Theatre, Valletta, last June, with 2018 marking the bicentenary of Isouard’s death, and we can only hope that there are more opportunities to hear it in Britain over the coming years.

X

Sam Smith

 

...a long list of things to enjoy
TrendFEM, September 2018

X

...a long list of things to enjoy

TrendFEM, September 2018

Cinderella. We all know what happens in this fairy tale. Sitting with great anticipation at St John’s Smith Square to see Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Nicolò Isouard’s Cinderella, I was in awe of how festive and warm the stage appeared. A wooden tree with buds to pick on one side of the stage and a rocking chair next to a fireplace on the other. How charming, I thought. (Is Christmas here yet?)

Many don’t know of the composer Nicolò Isouard, yet he was once a big name in Paris’ opera scene. You can see his bust at the opera house in Paris. As Bampton Opera celebrates its 25th anniversary, continuing to present, preserve and revive rarely performed works, it so happened to coincide with the bicentenary of Isouard’s death, and the rest is history.

Bampton Opera first presented their production of Cinderella at home in Oxfordshire, which had a successful two-day run irrespective of the wet conditions for one of its nights. But there was none of that at St John’s except for an umbrella that released silver confetti in between scenes.

 

One could tell Bampton Opera’s artistic directors Gilly French and Jeremy Gray worked hard to reinvent Isouard’s opera in making it accessible for all audiences. By introducing an English translation with new dialogues, they managed to produce a more relatable and engaging production. After all, Isouard composed the opera almost two centuries ago.

 

There’s a long list of things to enjoy about Bampton Opera’s production. As it was originally composed as French opera-comique, there were quite a few giggles to experience, here, such as the flossing (dance moves), silly catfights between Cinderella’s sisters in hair rolls and dress robes, a wedding cake with Cinderella’s silver shoe served on top, and the inflatable crown worn by the prince’s squire. The unexpected bolero (mixture of flamenco, Cuban, and tango dancing) with the entire cast went down a treat, too, and it worked brilliantly with Isouard’s music.

 

Alistair Ollernshaw (Baron), Benjamin Durrant (Dandini), Aoife O’Sullivan (Clorinde) and Jenny Stafford (Tisbe) were stand-out performers. Their characters packed a punch and their personalities were, most, definitely funny.

 

As Cinderella, Kate Howden was tender-hearted and vocally radiant. Her highlights include her sorrow song to the prince ‘I’m a servant’. While Bradley Smith as the Prince impressed the audience with his soft-toned vocals, including his goofy smile for Cinderella. While Nicholas Merryweatheras Alidor, aka fairy godmother, was also strong on stage as a sturdy baritone.

Musically Isouard’s opera is enchanting and melodious. (At times I heard shades of Rossini and Mozart.) I felt deeply inspired by Isouard’s music as it expressed much of what was happening in the story. In the beginning bars of act 3, the music seems sensitive and moving, featuring sounds of darkness. This may seem too adult for a children’s story, yet for Cinderella’s journey – from being a servant under the orders of her step-father and mean sisters to a humble and modest princess – Isouard shared his enthusiasm for emotion, meaning and symbolism.

On this occasion Chroma ensemble performed superbly with conductor Harry Sever at St John’s. The harp played a significant part in some of the solos, again playing up the fantasy mood, while the singing was simply marvellous. Duets and quartets abound, the entire cast’s vocal instruments were in fine shape.

 

X

Mary-Grace Nyugen

 

...dreams really can come true
Opera Today 19 September 2018

X

...dreams really can come true

Opera Today 19 September 2018

A good fairy-tale sweeps us away on a magic carpet while never letting us forget that for all the enchanting transformations, beneath the sorcery lie essential truths.

We may relish our submission to fantasy but flippancy and human foolishness are necessary ingredients too, and Bampton Classical Opera, in presenting their twenty-fifth anniversary production - Cinderella, by the Franco-Maltese Nicolò Isouard who died 200 years ago at the age of 41 - have found the perfect recipe for their magic spell. 

Jeremy Gray’s designs aptly juxtapose dull monochromes with dashing technicolour, mirroring the ugliness-beauty dichotomy embodied by the three young women who reside in the house of the ostentatious Baron de Montefiascone - here attired in shiny silver pyjamas (costumes by Jess Iliff) and played with haughty self-importance by bass Alistair Ollerenshaw. The sampler above the fire-place proclaims ‘Home Sweet Home’, but while the 1970s woolly wall-paper may be soft as silk, the mood in the kitchen is spiky and spiteful. As Cinderella (Kate Howden) labours with brushes and brooms, the Baron’s step-daughters, Clorinde (Aoife O’Sullivan) and Tisbe (Jenny Stafford), sabotage the sagging washing-line, only pausing from their malicious mischief-making to rejoice when the morning-post brings their invitations to Prince’s Ramir’s gala ball.

Despite Cinders’ despondency, Gray uses light and visual motifs to hint that Fate may be kinder than family and elevate the down-trodden lass to higher realms. In the corner of the yard stands a cubist tree offering golden apples, and as Cinders gently plucks the fruit, the branches are bathed in a pink glow which seems to suggest that the future will prove rosy. Indeed, in Act 2 the apples are transformed into magical lanterns which gleam warmly.

But, all good fairy-tales need a fairy-godmother - or, in this case, godfather, in the form of Prince Ramir’s tutor, Alidor (Nicholas Merryweather). Alidor stumbles on to the set cloaked in grubby grey rags and pushing a supermarket trolley filled with an eclectic assortment of oddments - a gramophone, bird-cage, flower-pots, a straw hat - but despite his beggar-disguise, there is no hiding Alidor’s wealth of wisdom and kindness. His royal tutee (Bradley Smith) may be an ingenue as far as romance and courtship are concerned, but just one glance at Cinders sees Prince Ramir smitten, and he can rely on Alidor to concoct a plan to win his bride.

Gray waves a magic wand - with a little help from a twirling ‘Mary Poppins’ whose umbrella dispenses fairy dust - to transport us to the ball, the grey fronds adorning the Baron’s walls blossoming into a forest of pink roses. Clorinde and Tisbe swap their fluffy slippers for some slinky frocks and set off in hot pursuit of their ‘Prince’, lured by the lurid gold medallion of office sported by one Dandini on his puffed-up chest, leaving Ramir free to woo Cinderella over a game of chess.

Isouard really does suggest that the devil has all the best tunes. Simple airs and romances suffice for Cinderella and her Prince, but the two sisters are blessed with characterful duets and a sparkling solo each, proving that virtue and virtuosity are certainly not bedfellows. Aoife O’Sullivan and Jenny Stafford made a wonderfully wicked pair, relishing the capricious coloratura and blending in curlicues of thirds and sixths the melodiousness of which belied the sisters’ malice. O’Sullivan demonstrated a thrilling sparkle and superb precision in Clorinde’s Act 2 show-piece which, designed to catch the Prince’s ear and eye, inspired the ball-goers to fling themselves into a bolero worthy of Torvill and Dean. Tisbe’s rueful lament in Act 3 was no less impressive and, miraculously, even managed to suggest that this harpy had a heart after all.

Nicholas Merryweather always commands a stage; thus, although we are more used to seeing and hearing the baritone in comic guise, he was a masterful mentor, using his strong baritone to convey the maturity and insight that his naïve charges lack. Merryweather also ensured that we heard every word, whether spoken or sung - even when he seemed to be singing with his mouth stuffed full with bananas. Kate Howden’s diction was less clear, but she captured Cinderella’s sweetness and warmth, singing with beautiful tone in her romances with tenor Bradley Smith’s Prince Ramir. I’d like to see both of these singers in roles which offer them greater vocal and dramatic challenges. And, the same goes for tenor Benjamin Durrant, whose Dandini would give Liberace a run for his money, and Ollerenshaw, who had little to sing but who proved a sterling foundation in the ensembles, really making his presence felt vocally. The energy and wit of Lucy Cronin and Susanne Dymott in various choral roles also made a vivid contribution to the whole.

Conductor Harry Sever made the most of Isourd’s instrumental colours and the musicians of CHROMA produced a variety of orchestral hues; I particularly enjoyed the nasally windings of the woodwind duets, and there were strong contributions from the horns (Lizzi Tocknell and Richard Bayliss) and harpist Oliver Wass. With the musicians seated behind the set and Sever visible to the cast on two side-screens, it was not surprising that the ensemble occasionally slipped. St John’s Smith Square is not a kind venue for opera, but Gray and his cast did well to overcome the challenges of space and acoustic.

Given the slightness of Isouard’s ‘drama’, we can forgive some occasional hamming in the dialogues and longer ensembles; for there was plenty of sharp wit and neat detail in Gray’s direction and Gilly French’s English translation. Unlike the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault, Isouard offers us no dark terrors, political inferences or journeys into the psyche. Simply and sincerely, his music tells a familiar tale, but such is the score’s charm that we’re drawn into a story that we’ve heard so many times before. Goodness triumphs over greed, justice over jealousy. Once again, Bampton Classical Opera have shown us that dreams really can come true.

X

Claire Seymour

 

...stepsisters shine in fairytale bagatelle
theartsdesk.com, 19 September 2018

X

...stepsisters shine in fairytale bagatelle

theartsdesk.com, 19 September 2018

Cinderella as opera in French: of late, the palm has always gone to Massenet's adorable (as in a-dor-Ah-bler) confection, and it should again soon when Glyndebourne offers a worthy home to the master's magic touch. The Cendrillon of Maltese-born honorary Parisian Nicolas Isouard, aka Nicolò, clearly had its day after the 1810 premiere, but it was eclipsed by Rossini's La Cenerentola coming along seven years later, and with good reason. The muse assigned to Rossini did not visit mostly pedestrian Isouard, though his approach is compact and briefly steps out of the generic with two pretty sets of minor-key couplets for its hero and heroine. Seen on a sunny summer evening in a country house, it may well have charmed throughout, but a fine company has to work extra-hard in St John's Smith Square.

Their energetic efforts do eventually pay off. Jeremy Gray's designs - knitwear, not sure why, for the home of Baron de Montefiascone, floral wallpaper for the ball at which Cinderella can disguise her identity by holding a single rose - work as well as they can in a very small space, blocking out most of the orchestra (conductor Harry Sever is seen on two large screens). Gray's direction is more village-hall antics, with too much mugging from the singers and a couple of gimmicks designed to fill out the longer numbers with business that doesn't always read. 

 

It may be easiest for the ladies playing capricious-spiteful stepsisters Clorinde and Tisbe, but these are the two finest singing actors on the stage. Since the mezzo role of Cinderella was written for a sweet but modestly voiced teenager, the vocal plums go to the sopranos. Aoife O'Sullivan's Clorinde shines in a high-lying Spanish entertainment at the palace, to a slightly gauche choreography; Jenny Stafford's Tisbe steals the show in a surprisingy big aria of regret after the ball, drawing all eyes to her focused acting and meaningful delivery of the text, such as it is, at every point: star quality.

 

There's more top-notch singing from Nicholas Merryweather as Alidor, the royal sage whose enlightened guidance would give Rossini the cue to make the story all about goodness rewarded, stripped of the magic. Which is rather indeterminate here, involving only a floaty chorus at the beginning of Act Two which is also the main subject of the harp and horn led Overture. Adolphe Adam was right when he described Isouard's work as "une féerie sans erie", ie a fairy-tale without enchantment; in his excellent programme note, Gray also quotes Weber's observation on "the routine nature of practically every piece". That early master of the supernatural in music was right, so frankly why disinter the work? On the clumsiness of the orchestration, though, he's proved wrong by Sever and CHROMA, drafted in for this London performance only; the scoring for woodwind in pairs - some lovely oboe writing especially - seems crisp and clear (I presume this is the original and not Adam's retouching).

 

Most disappointing is Isouard's inability to rise to moonshine for the love between Cinderella and her Prince; their duets are utterly generic, though sweetly enough done by Kate Howden and Bradley Smith. Howden has a warm lower register, though the tone thins higher up, and her words were unintelligible in the difficult St John's acoustics. The dialogue has a certain naive charm, but would have sounded better in the original French; and the rest of cast is rather too campy with it. Still, with the slipper finding its mate and the rose comes into its own again, it was hard not to feel a twinge of pleasure at the general warmth of the presentation. Pauline Viardot's Cendrillon next, anybody?

X

David Nice

 

Articles

Nicolò Isouard and Charles Guillaume Etienne
Jeremy Gray

X

Nicolò Isouard and Charles Guillaume Etienne

lt has often been remarked that you know a man by the company he keeps (or, in the words of a traditional Irish song, "You can tell a man who boozes by the company he chooses...").  It is indeed said that Nicolò Isouard’s final years were spent in “dissolute living” but that didn’t prevent the august patrons of the sumptuous Paris Opéra, the Palais Garnier, begun 1851, placing his bust amongst illustrious sculpted company on the west façade – with pursed lips and piercing eyes, he’s made to look rather austerely Roman. Next to him is Carl Maria von Weber (which must create some personal tensions, since the German composer had strong words to say against Cendrillon); further along the marmoreal sequence are Vicenzo Bellini, followed by Adolphe Adam, who drastically revised and re-orchestrated Cendrillon for performances in 1845, although perhaps doing the original no great service.  At least Isouard keeps a safe distance from Rossini, whose presumptuous La Cenerentola was ultimately responsible for the demise of Isouard’s once profitable opera.  If you wished to study in person these noble personages, you could always stay at the Hotel Nicolo (two stars, and with a coveted Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence), no 3 Rue Nicolo, Paris 16e.  And that’s to say nothing of a bus-stop named after him in Mosta, Malta, as wryly pointed out by Martin Dreyer in a recent article in Opera magazine celebrating the bicentenary of his death.  We are clearly performing music by a man of significance and status.
 
The stylishly Parisian-chic street sign for the Rue Nicolo, which designates him ‘compositeur’, confidently gives his dates as 1775 – 1818.  But careful scrutiny of our publicity and programme reveal a wary ‘c.’ placed before the date 1775: Isouard himself, when marrying Claudine Berthault in Paris in 1812, stated his birthdate as 6 December 1775, but baptismal records in Valletta, Malta, record the birth of Joannes Joachim Edoardus Nicolaus Isouard on 16 May 1773; to confuse matters further his sarcophagus in the Cimetière du Père Lachaise, on the sides of which are inscribed the titles of some of his most famous works, including Cendrillon, proclaims the date as 1777.  Perhaps he enjoyed birthday parties.
 
Isouard, whatever the truth of his age, deserves this acclaim and his music certainly merits more attention than it currently receives.  Coming from mixed French-Maltese parentage, he was a true (and tri-lingual) European:  his teens saw him studying in Malta and Paris, and then in Palermo and Naples.  At the age of 18 (or 16, or 14….) he was appointed assistant organist at the fabulously baroque St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, and within a few years his first opera was successfully premiered in Florence.  Eight further operas in Malta followed, including, tantalizingly Il barbiere di Siviglia which is now unfortunately ‘lost’. When Napoleon invaded Malta in 1798, Isouard naturally and strategically sided with the incomers, thus earning the permanent wrath of the exiled Knights of St John who had previously honoured him with awards and titles, including maestro-di-cappella of the Order of St John.  The occupying French general placed him in charge of the Teatro Pubblico in Valetta (later renamed the Manoel), although the 1731 building was redesigned several times and is no longer quite as Isouard would have known it.
 
Once in Paris, Isouard never looked back, although he was proud of his southern origins and many of his scores are inscribed with the name Nicolò de Malte.  He continued to compose opera with great commitment – perhaps 36 of them - now dropping his former Italian manner and taking up the style of the French opéra-comique, with spoken dialogues and even a hint of influence from Mozart and Beethoven.  He worked in part in collaboration with Boieldieu, Cherubini, Méhul and Kreutzer.  His first Parisian success, in 1802, was a comedy Michel-Ange (not, it seems, based on the Renaissance artist giant), followed by other widely popular works such as Les Rendez-vous bourgeois (1807), Joconde (1814), and Jeannot et Colin (1814).  The success of Cendrillon at last convinced his sceptical father that Nicolò had adopted a worthwhile profession after all.
 
Joconde and Jeannot et Colin were set, like Cendrillon, to libretti by Charles Guillaume Étienne (1778 - 1845), journalist and playwright, sometime imperial censor for the French press and head of literature at the Ministry of Police.  Étienne was well-established in the theatres of Paris and the relationship with Isouard, which resulted in eight operas, proved successful and profitable.  In the same year as writing Cendrillon, he penned an enormously popular comedy play, Les Deux Gendres, which won him election to the venerable Académie française (he was later expelled), but also led to a bitter attack on his artistic integrity by his rivals.  A parallel political career saw him seven times appointed as Deputy for the Meuse department.  The satirical magazine Le Charivari commented in 1833 how “the Deputy of the Meuse sleeps at the Chamber as he sleeps at the Institute; he wakes only at mealtimes but then he finds all his intellectual abilities, the most remarkable of which is a dizzying loquacity – he’s an eloquent stomach, as one man describes him.”
 
Isouard’s popular supremacy in Paris was shaken by the return in 1811 after eight years in St Petersburg by his friend and rival Adrien Boieldieu.  At first the rivalry merely sharpened Nicolò’s wits and creativity, encouraging him to produce his finest works.  However in 1817 both composers applied for membership of the Institut de France: Boieldieu won the nomination and a rift quickly developed.  Isouard’s bitter resentment and disappointment seem to have hastened his psychological decline and helped lead to alcoholism and an early death.
 
Jeremy Gray

Jeremy Gray is artistic director of Bampton Classical Opera

X

Je ne suis plus la même - I am not the same as I was before
Jeremy Gray

X

Je ne suis plus la même - I am not the same as I was before

“Mon fils, le monde ne juge que sur les apparences” – My son, people judge only by what they see.   Thus Alidor, astrologer, sage and occasional but restrained purveyor of supernatural forces, advises his young pupil, Ramir, Prince of Salerno.  But all that glisters is not gold.
 
The plot of Charles Guillaume Étienne’s 1810 libretto of Cendrillon centres on a sequence and strategy of disguises which test, provoke and tease, as they do in Le nozze di Figaro, Così fan tutte and a host of other operas: the essential crux of most of the Cinderella legends, that she is transformed at the Ball into a mystery princess whose true identity is masked even from her own family (in this version protected by a magic rose), is only one of the feigned appearances which Alidor manipulates to bring about the triumph of virtue.  In the opening scene, Alidor himself appears as a beggar seeking charity which is amply provided by Cinderella and denied by her sisters.  Later he persuades the Prince and his squire Dandini – the vainest and most stupid of the Court entourage – to exchange identities: only thus can the Prince find a bride who will truly love him for himself rather than for status.  When the couple first meet, in Act 1, Cinderella can love the stranger only because he appears to be of lowly rank; the discovery of his true royal status at the climax of Act 2 is what forces her to run away in dismay, fearful that he cannot continue to love her when he discovers her own real debased status – here there is no panicked obedience to the fairy-tale curfew of midnight.  Consequently the Act 3 ‘love-duet’ is oblique and bitter-sweet as Cinderella, now returned to her own drab and destitute persona, is aware that the Prince’s emotions are kindled not by her as she really is, but by his romantic memory of the errant Princess.
 
The impecunious Baron of Montefiascone, meanwhile, has his own concerns with appearances.  Despite the ongoing ravages of recession and poor investment, he is determined to maintain an outer pretence of his family’s status and wealth (and to continue to indulge his taste for fine wine).  Bringing up three daughters by two mothers (both deceased) is an impossibly expensive task that requires an unfair solution: the youngest, his step-daughter, who is even denied a baptismal name (later operas call her Agatina and Angelina), must incur no costs in order that her step-sisters may thrive at her expense.  Cinderella, whose innate goodness shapes her naïve generosity and forgiveness, bears no grudge and can even laugh at her plight:
 
Though my efforts take some beating, I never receive reward,
nor a friendly word of greeting, I am largely just ignored.
Never mind, I keep on going, it’s the stuff of a novella:
God protects me, ever-knowing, I’m his Little Cinderella.
 
Étienne rejects the sadistic step-mother of the Perrault and Grimm fairy-stories, whose cruelty stems from her awareness that Cinderella’s inner virtue highlights the imperfections of her own daughters.  Indeed, despite the designation of the opera as an ‘opéra-féerie’, there is little which is truly supernatural – Alidor repeatedly insists that it is the girl’s virtue and simple truth which enable her salvation: 
 
Have courage instead: be of a simple kindness,
fortitude remaining forever unchanged.
 
Through her own constancy, Cinderella can feel herself re-born (“I am not the same as I was before”), and can touch the lives of all around her for their redemption. 
 
The unaffected realism of Étienne’s text is well-matched by Isouard’s score which is fluent, lyrical and full of charm: as with its eponymous heroine, its special quality, according to Robert Ignatius Letellier, lies in its “originality, simplicity and naivety”.  It was the 31st of his (perhaps) 46 operas; by then he had successfully learned to absorb traditions from both Italian and French styles, enjoying many successes and a whole sequence of works at the Opéra-Comique, based at the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris.  Étienne and Isouard collaborated on eight operas, the last, Aladin, ou La lampe merveilleuse unfinished at the time of the composer’s death (and the first staged opera at the Paris Opéra to be – appropriately - illuminated by gas lighting). The French taste for operas with spoken dialogue, the opéra-comique, was quite distinct from the Italian style, and enabled Étienne to write a lengthy conversational work, the musical setting of which led to many duets and ensembles, rather than bravura arias.   
 
Isouard dedicated the work to the teenage soprano Alexandrine Saint-Aubin (1793-1867) who played the title-role at the première at the Feydeau on 22 February 1810 and whose sister Cécile Duret created Clorinde.  Babault, writing in 1811, says that Cendrillon was the peak of her brief two-year career at the Feydeau, and that she was “une enchanteresse” in this role, and turned everyone’s heads.  From the large number of contemporary engravings and reviews, it is clear that the role made her a celebrity.  It has been suggested that her youth necessitated simplicity in the music composed for her, as demonstrated in her opening strophic Romance, Je suis modeste et soumise, but it is more likely that this was an intentional effect by Isouard to express Cinderella’s innocence, contrasted with the extravagance of writing for Clorinde and Tisbe.  Certainly the vanity of these two (their names are pretentiously classical, from Tasso and Ovid) is superbly expressed in the coloratura and agility of their duets and arias.  Clorinde entertains the Court with a spectacular Spanish-style Bolero at the end of Act 2, which Martin Dreyer has recently linked with the visit to Paris in 1809 of the Spanish singer-composer Manuel García – by happy coincidence García’s daughter, Pauline Viardot, was to compose her own Cendrillon opera near the end of her long life, in 1904.  If the Bolero implies Clorinde’s glittering superficiality, her sister is given a heavier dramatic Recitative and Aria at the opening of the short third Act.  Although his role is insufficiently developed in Étienne’s script, the name of the comic character Dandini, “the most pretentious and foolish” of the court servants, probably reflects ‘dandysme’ (Dandy-ism), which was all the rage in fashionable post-Revolutionary Paris.
 
Isouard’s score contains many delights, and he successfully melds together a number of influences, looking back both to Mozartian classicism and forward to the bel canto style.  He maintains an engaging variety of mood and texture, creating character effectively through style and orchestral colour.  The simple strophic ‘airs’ for Cinderella and the Prince have a charming sincerity which sets them off against the pretentiousness of the sisters’ vocal fireworks.  Whilst one regrets that Étienne did not provide opportunities for solo numbers for the Baron and Dandini, the sage-cum-wizard Alidor is placed at the dramatic and lyrical heart of the plot.  Alidor’s calm and expressive Andante theme Now, now, my dear, no need to fret, remain in peace, I won’t forget which emerges within the extensive opening quartet, is repeated both in the magical Dream sequence at the opening of Act 2, and in the closing bars of the opera.  There is perhaps a suggestion of this theme in the very opening notes of the overture, played by the solo horn.  Indeed, the opera starts with a distinctive fairy-tale palette of horn and harp, which play concertante-like against the rest of the orchestra, a specific colour which returns to dominate the Act 2 Dream.  Isouard was always particular and telling in his use of colour which, allied to the lyrical French grace of his melodies and his sure setting of text, makes him a very accomplished stage composer.
 
The successful première at the Feydeau was followed by well over 100 performances.  An early biography of Etienne tells how “the theatre could not contain the spectators: the corridors were packed with the curious who, perched on stools, were forced to watch the show through the windows of the boxes”.  Auguste Thurner, writing in 1865 a history of the Opéra-Comique, relates how “for several months, every time the posters announced Cendrillon, more than two thousand people filled the corridors at the Feydeau theatre; the total of the first twenty performances produced a return of 110,000 francs, a figure unheard of at that time.”  Its success spawned an extraordinary efflorescence of operas, ballets, vaudevilles and parodies over the coming decades - Encore une Cendrillon, ou la plus petite de toutes; Sophie, ou La nouvelle Cendrillon; La petite Cendrillon, ou La chatte merveilleuse; Les six pantoufles ou Le rendez-vous des Cendrillons; Le mariage de Cendrillon, ou Simplicité, Constance; La Fête de Perrault, ou l’Horoscope des Cendrillons were just some of those presented in theatres around France.  Étienne’s libretto was simultaneously set to different music by the German composer Daniel Steibelt and staged in St Petersburg in 1810.  
 
Isouard’s version very quickly reached audiences outside France: Brussels heard it in June 1810 and Moscow the following year.  In German translation as Aschenbrödel or Aschenputtel it was heard In Eisenstädt, Frankfurt, Vienna, Hamburg, Budapest, and Berne and Prague between 1810 and 1812, and there were early translations and performances in Swedish, Polish, Dutch, Spanish and Hungarian.  E.T.A Hoffmann conducted performances at the Court Theatre, Dresden in 1813, and Weber took up the work frequently in Prague in 1814, where his future wife Caroline Brandt starred in the title-role, and at the German Opera, Dresden between 1817-1821 (nevertheless Weber was dismissive about the qualities of the work – complaining meanly about the ‘routine nature of practically every piece’ and its ‘clumsy orchestration’).  It reached New York in 1827 but further research is needed to trace any London performances.  As with any early opera, and despite the engraving of a full score published by Isouard himself, the work was often modified and adjusted to suit different casts and circumstances.  Isouard comments in the published score how, in Paris, the two sisters required the calibre of “premières chanteuses”, whereas in the provinces, it might be necessary to substitute a secondary singer for Tisbe, and to cut her Act 3 aria as a result.  Adolphe Adam revived, reorchestrated and rewrote it in Paris in 1845, whilst commenting ruefully it was ”une féerie sans féerie”, and a further revival in Paris in 1877 added a ballet with music, in part, by Lully.  The popular fame of the work is also demonstrated by the number of salon pieces based on its melodies composed for different instruments and voices, including piano variations by Hummel and Czerny.
 
No discussion of the Étienne /Isouard opera can fail to recognise the fact that it was superseded and outshone by a presumptuous 1817 offspring, Rossini’s La Cenerentola.  Faced with a deadline crisis of alarming proportions, Rossini and his librettist Jacopo Ferretti furtively turned to the earlier opera as a close model, reworking it with breathtaking energy to the extent that it could be written, composed, rehearsed and staged within a month and premièred in Rome’s Teatro Valle on 25 January 1817.  Rossini’s subtitle, La bontà in trionfo (Goodness triumphant), recalls Samuel Richardson’s hugely influential novel of 1740, Pamela: Virtue rewarded, as well as Stefano Pavesi’s opera Agatina, o La virtù premiata of 1814.  Both the Pavesi and Rossini operas were closely shaped by the 1810 parent; although Ferretti provides his title-role with a name, Angelina, and replaces the discarded slipper with a bracelet (less likely to offend the Roman censors), he adopted the characters (the Baron, Clorinde, Tisbe, Alidor and Dandini) and some of the musical structures (notably the opening quartet), directly from Etienne/Isouard.  Programme notes and studies of the Ferretti/Rossini opera tend to emphasise how their non-fantasy, realist plot was the result of Roman preferences, and Ferretti himself explained that it was a “gesture of respect for the delicacy of Roman taste which does not permit on the stage what might please in a fairy-tale beside the fire.”  But in fact that realism, which moves well away from the original Perrault ‘conte’ of 1697, Cendrillon ou La petite pantoufle de verre, was already specified by Étienne: even Perrault’s glass slipper (pantoufle de verre – or, as some prefer, vair – fur) is replaced simply by souliers verts – green slippers – and much more comfortable to dance in at the Ball!
 
Cendrillon was recorded in a performance conducted by Richard Bonynge in 1998 (Olympia label) and recently by Manhattan School of Music, conducted by Pierre Vallet, following performances in New York in December 2017 (Albany label).  In June 2018 the opera was staged at Isouard’s own theatre, Teatru Manoel, in Valletta.
 
Jeremy Gray

Jeremy Gray is the director of Cinderella and an artistic director of Bampton Classical Opera

X

Bampton Classical Opera Goes to the Ball
Claire Seymour

X

Bampton Classical Opera Goes to the Ball

I wonder if Cinderella realised that when she found her Prince she would also find international fame, becoming not just a Princess but also a global celebrity and icon. The glass slipper, placed loving on her shapely foot, has graced theatres, variety halls, cinema screens and opera houses - even postage stamps - and the perennial popularity of this rags-to-riches fairy-tale, in which innocence and goodness triumph over injustice and oppression, shows no signs of waning.

 

American author Gail Carson Levine’s award-winning fantasy-novel Ella Enchanted was published in 1997, and as recently as 2015  Walt Disney Pictures revisited the romantic fantasy, producing a live-action re-imagining of the original 1950 animated film. Both a Filipino pop group that rose to prominence in the 1970s, and an American glam rock band formed in Pennsylvania in 1982 and which had a series of multi-platinum albums and hit singles, chose to call themselves after the undervalued skivvy.

According to some sources, there are over 1500 adaptations of the  Cinderella story, the earliest version of which is usually considered to be the Greek philosopher Strabo’s account of a Greek slave girl who marries the Egyptian King. Made popular by Charles Perrault in  Histoires ou contes du temps passé in 1697 and subsequently by the Brothers Grimm in their ‘darker’ version of the folk tale (in ‘Aschenputtel’, published in the collected Fairy Tales of 1812, the step-sisters are so grotesquely greedy that they are willing to hack bits off their feet to force them into the slipper!), Cinders’ true virtue has earned its just reward in countless pantomimes and plays, ballets and films, musicals and novels.

The earliest known British pantomime based on Cinderella was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London in 1904, and now Baron Hard-Up, the Ugly Sisters and Buttons are perennial Christmas favourites. In 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein gave us a television musical with Julie Andrews in the eponymous role. Prokofiev put the glass slipper  en pointe, though Tchaikovsky almost got there first, writing to his brother Modest in October 1870, ‘Just imagine, that I've undertaken to write the music for a ballet Cinderella, and that this vast four-act score must be ready by the middle of December!’, though this commission for his first ballet remained unfulfilled. Ferdinand Langer (1878), Johann Strauss II (1901) and Frank Martin (1941) have all taken Cinders to a ballet-ball; and, Christopher Wheeldon, who in 2013 added puppetry (by Basil Twist) to Prokofiev’s score, will choreograph a new production of Cinderella, co-produced by English National Ballet and the Royal Albert Hall where it will be performed in the round in June next year, which is being billed as ‘the ballet spectacular of 2019’.

 

Cinemas have offered sugary sweet adaptations of the young girl’s journey from misery to matrimony, such as The Slipper and the Rose (starring Richard Chamberlain and Gemma Craven, 1976) and  Ever After (1998, featuring Drew Barrymore). And, of course, in the opera house numerous composers have literally given Cinderella a ‘voice’, from Jean-Louis Laruette and Louis Anseaume (1759) to Stefano Pavesi (1814), from Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1900) to Gustav Holst (1901), from Peter Maxwell Davies (1979) to Alma Deutscher (2016), among others.

 

Of course, the operatic versions of Goodness Triumphant by Giacomo Rossini (La Cenerentola, 1817) and Massenet (Cendrillon, 1894-6) are the best-known. But, in the early nineteenth century it was not Rossini whose Cinderella was most celebrated but that of the Franco-Maltese Nicolas - or Nicolò, as he called himself - Isouard, whose three-act comic opera,  Cendrillon, to a libretto by Charles-Guillaume Etienne after Charles Perrault, was premiered in the Salle Feydeau at the Opéra-Comique on 22nd February 1810. And, it is this opéra-féerie by Isouard, who died two hundred years ago, that Bampton Classical Opera - celebrating their twenty-fifth year - have selected for their 2018 production and which, following performances earlier this summer at Bampton and Westonbirt, can now be enjoyed at St John’s Smith Square on 18th September.

 

So, who was Nicolò Isouard, this composer of more than 40 operas, whose bust graces the pediments of the Palais Garnier in Paris? The son of a Marseille merchant, Isouard was born in Valletta on 18thMay 1773 (according to Grove; some sources suggest 6th December 1775). His early education, which included mathematics, Latin and music, took place in Paris at the Pensionnat Berthaud, a preparatory school for the Engineers and Artillery, but the Revolution forced him to flee back to Malta in 1789 where his father found him a position in a merchant’s office. He continued his musical studies - composition with Michel-Ange Vella and counterpoint with Francesco Azzopardi; when his work took him to Palermo, he took harmony lessons with Giuseppe Amendola; later, in Naples, he completed composition studies with Nicola Sala and received practical advice from Guglielmi.

 

Isouard made his debut as an opera composer with  L'avviso ai maritati in June 1794, which was successfully received in Florence and later given in Lisbon, Dresden and Madrid. Back home, not all spoke favourably of Isouard, some questioning his masonic affiliations. In April 1794, the Maltese Inquisition was told that the composer was ‘a young man who leads a sinful life, frequenting loose women, and boasting about it. He ridicules and despises the sacrifice of the Mass [...] those acquainted with him consider him a libertine’, but despite such condemnation, in 1795, on the death of Vincenzo Anfossi, Isouard was appointed organist to the Order of St John of Jerusalem in Valetta, later becoming maestro di cappella there. He settled in Malta, composing serious and comic operas for the Maltese theatre.[1]

 

The French invasion of the island in June saw him become secretary to the Governor of the French garrison, Vaubois, and following the French submission to the British, Isouard, perhaps fearful of charges of collaboration, returned with the latter to Paris in 1799. His first Parisian opéra comique, Le petit page, composed in collaboration with Rodolphe Kreutzer who acted as Isouard’s manager and patron, was given in the Théâtre Feydeau in February 1800. Friendship with the librettist F.-B. Hoffman led to the sharpening of his dramatic insight, and his first major success came with Michel-Ange (1802).

 

On 5th August 1802, Isouard co-founded - with Luigi Cherubini, Etienne-Nicolas Méhul, Rodolphe Kreutzer, Adrien Boïeldieu and Pierre Rode - Le magasin de musique dirigé, a publishing venture which formally opened in December that year, in premises at 268  rue de la Loi in Paris (in 1805-6 the street number and name were altered to 76 rue de Richelieu). The company was designed to spare composers - who in the late-eighteenth century habitually self-published their works and sold them personally or through music shops - from financial risk and time-consuming business matters, and to ensure that they received increased publicity and profit. Each of the six composers was contracted to furnish at least one opera or 50 pages of music each year, and each was entitled to the proceeds from the sale of his own works and to a share in the profits of the firm’s publications of works, mainly instrumental compositions, by various non-associated contemporary composers who were popular in Paris at the time.

 

In total more than 650 editions were published, from engraved plates, including Viotti’s five violin concertos and, notably, the first edition in full score of Le nozze di Figaro (1807-08). However, of the six collaborators Isouard - who had the most extensive business experience among the group - was alone in taking his prescribed obligations seriously: the firm printed nine of his operas in full score, alongside Cherubini’sAnacréon, Méhul’s Joseph and Boïeldieu’s  Ma tante Aurore. He left the firm in July 1807 and on 12 August 1811 the partnership was dissolved, J.-J. Frey acquiring the business, manuscripts and 9679 engraved plates (of which Isouard’s contribution accounted for 3,553 engraved pages, about 37% of the total). [2]

 

In 1808, with Un jour à Paris, Isouard began his long collaboration with Etienne, who was the editor of the  Journal des deux mondes. Two years later they had an unprecedented success at the Opéra-Comique in 1810 with the fairy-tale operaCendrillon, and further triumphs followed including Jeannot et Colin (1814) and Joconde (1814), the latter establishing Isouard’s international reputation. He had little serious competition among his fellow composers in Paris at this time, but with the return of Boïedlieu, from Russia, in 1811, a friendly rivalry was initiated, one which became more acrimonious when both applied for membership of the Institut de France (1817). Boïeldieu’s success angered Isouard who broke off relations with his former friend. Indeed, it has been suggested that Isouard was driven to drink, debauchery and an early death by his jealousy of Boïeldieu! [3]

 

Isouard, Boïeldieu and Méhul are often credited with having brought French  opéra comique to its final form. The genre is a significant marker of changing taste in France in the early years of the nineteenth century. While the French did share Napoleon’s liking for Italian opera and aristocratic themes, opéra comique came to be strongly identified with the cultural appetites of the post-revolutionary bourgeoisie who, after years of Revolutionary turmoil and bloodshed, now longed for simple entertainments that would amuse and bring joy. Characters were drawn from everyday life; plots involved complicated deceptions and subterfuges; a pair of lovers was unfailingly at the centre of the drama. The story was advanced by spoken dialogue and the music was ‘uncomplicated’: melodious strophic airs and romances, pictorial orchestrations, strongly defined musical characterisation. Though the genre is occasionally dismissed as light and trivial, both Edward J. Dent and Donald Grout argue that it is in the op éra-comique of the years from 1790 to 1815 that we should look for the origins of mid-nineteenth-century Romantic grand opera. 

 

Isouard certainly achieved great popularity at home and abroad during his life-time. His operas were performed across Europe; Michel-Ange was translated into five languages and L’intrigue aux fenêtresinto seven. Born in Hanover in 1795, Sophie Augustine Leo, the writer of the anonymous Erinnerungen aus Paris (Berlin, 1851), had travelled to Paris with her elder sister Mme Valentin in 1817, and the year later married the German banker August Leo, a prominent patron of the arts among whose regular guests were many distinguished artists living in Paris at this time. Writing of the ‘masterpieces’ that were being given at the Opéra-Comique during this period, Sophie remarked Isouard’s achievements: ‘His opera Jeannot et Colin, more especially his  Rendezvous bourgeois, sparkled with life and animation; I doubt whether a more amusing subject than the latter is to be found. Though I can no longer remember enough of the detail to retell the story, I know that the merriment of the spectators was endless and that the music had caught the spirit of the text. L’intrigue aux fenêtres followed, then  Cendrillon and Joconde, and Isouard died, aged forty-one, at the height of his development and in the ever increasing favor of his public.’ [4] She also noted that, ‘In 1818, i.e., shortly after my arrival in Paris, connoisseurs were shocked by the deaths of Isouard and Méhul’.

 

Frequently composers made adaptations and transcriptions of Isouard opera airs. In 1810 Jan Ladislav Dussek published his “Variations No.4 in G major on ‘Toto Carabo’ or ‘Il étoit un petit homme’ from the opera  Cendrillon by Nicolò Isouard arranged as a Rondo with Imitations”, and one of Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s seven sets of variations on opera themes took Cendrillon as its source.

 

Isoaurd’s fame and favour reached far afield. In his study of opera in Philadelphia from 1800-30, Otto Albrecht demonstrates that Isouard’s work was popular among the 258 different operas presented during in the city during these thirty-one years. In October 1827 no fewer than three operas by Isouard were performed: Cendrillon,  ou Le petit soulier verd (first performed on 20th October 1827) was preceded by Joconde, ou Les coureurs d’aventures (1st October) and Les rendez-vous bourgeois (17  th October), while a year later on 18th October 1828 Isouard’s Lully et Quinault, ou Le déjeuner impossible was staged. [5] Further evidence of the dispersal of Isouard’s music in America can be found in Charlotte le Pelletier’s ambitious Journal of Musick, published in Baltimore in 1810. Pellier, a pianist and composer, had arrived in Baltimore from Paris in 1803. A widow with two children, she worked as a tutor and set about a project to sustain her French cultural heritage by publishing a collection of songs and piano pieces that would appeal to other French émigrés for study and performance. The collection included a large proportion of transcriptions from the latest productions at the Opéra-Comique, including arrangements for solo keyboard from the overtures and interludes of Isouard’s Les confidences (1803) and, drawing upon one of the era’s most popular vocal forms, a transcription of the ‘romance’ from Isouard’s first great success, Michel-Ange (1802). [6]

 

Isouard and his contemporaries were also all the rage on the Russian stage in the early 1800s. Among Isouard’s works that reached Moscow were  L'intrigue aux fenêtres (1807), Le médecin litre (1810), and Cendrillon (1811). And, Russian literature did not neglect him: in Alexander Pushkin’s ‘The Blizzard’ from  The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin, one of the principal characters, describing his experience in the army during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, refers to Isouard’s Joconde of 1814: “Meanwhile, the war had ended in glory. Our regiments were returning from abroad. People ran to meet them. For music they played conquered songs: Vive Henri-Quatre, Tyrolean waltzes, and arias from Joconde.” Not everyone was so enamoured of the man and his music, though. Carl Maria von Weber thought that Cendrillon’s ‘sweet airs’ possessed ‘nothing to make an effect on an audience’ and criticised ‘the routine nature of practically every piece’ in the opera and its ‘clumsy instrumentation’.[7]

 

Some have argued that the artlessness of Cinderella’s musical characterisation - the unadorned melodic line of the simple romances - reflects the influence of the rather limited vocal talents of Alexandrine Saint-Aubin, whose celebrated but brief career was given initial impetus by this role (sung in Bampton’s production by Kate Howden). But, the decorum of Cinderella’s strophic songs complements her inner grace, and Isouard reserves the virtuosity for the two stepsisters, Clorinde and Tisbe (here Aoife O’Sullivan and Jenny Stafford respectively), who, vain, spoiled and self-promoting, pull out all the coloratura stops when seeking to attract the Prince’s attention. Clearly, Isouard had an instinctive sense of how to match melody and context, and, judging by the concerto elements in the opera’s overture as well as interesting use of harp and horn throughout, a good ear for musical colour and pictorialism. There is dramatic interest and depth, too, in the expanded role for Alidoro, the Prince’s sage and tutor (played by Nicholas Merryweather in this production).

 

When Isouard died, at the age of 44, in Paris on 23rd March 1818, his final opera Aladin, ou La lampe merveilleuse was unfinished. Completed by Benincori, the work was premièred at the Opéra on 6thFebruary 1822, the first opera in Paris to be produced with gas lighting, and to include an ophicleide in the pit orchestra. But, on 25  th January 1817, an opera had been performed at the Teatro Valle in Rome which in the coming years would supplant his own Cendrillon: Rossini’s two-act  dramma giocoso, La Cenerentola - the libretto of which acknowledged a debt to Isouard, declaring itself ‘by Jacopo Ferretti after Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon and librettos by Charles-Guillaume Etienne for Nicolas Isouard’s Cendrillon (1810, Paris) and Francesco Fiorini for Stefano Pavesi’s  Agatina, o La virtù premiata (1814, Milan)’.

 

Just as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven came to dominate instrumental music, so Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini were predominant in the operatic repertory by the 1840s. But despite this, other composers continued to achieve ‘popular’ success throughout the nineteenth century, not least as providers of vocal music to alternate with instrumental works on the concert programmes of the growing number of subscription societies. Though their music is infrequently heard today, the most popular - Giovanni Pergolesi, Giovanni Paisiello, Domenico Cimarosa - remain familiar names. Yet, composers such as Louis Spohr, Giovanni Viotti, Etienne-Nicolas Méhul, George Onslow and Robert Franz are now largely excised from music history, even though in their day their music - alongside that of Nicolas Isouard - was whistled on the streets.

 

Although the Opéra-Comique revived Les rendez-vous bourgeois and  Joconde after World War I, Isouard’s operas have largely languished in obscurity for more than one hundred years, though in 1999 the Australian conductor Richard Bonynge presented Cendrillon in Moscow, a performance that was recorded live. Last year, Manhattan School of Music mounted a production, and in June this year, Cendrillon premiered in Malta itself, in the Manoel Theatre in Valletta (which is the 2018 Cultural Capital of Europe).

 

Thanks to Bampton Classical Opera, we will have an opportunity to hear in London music that was recalled so fondly by an anonymous writer in the 15  th May 1854 issue of Revue des deux mondes:

‘I was present a few years ago when Cinderella was rehearsing at the Opéra-Comique, and I was delighted, I will admit, by the charming nature of this so naively romantic inspiration. Nicolò produced an effect on me that Rossini’s music in all its pomp had not been able to produce. I seemed to hear a real fairy tale in music, and I found in these slightly shortened phrases, an expression so simple and so touching, [an] air of childish grace and good-naturedness …’


[1] Expelled from Rhodes by the Turks in 1523, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta proved itself a notable musical patron, transforming Maltese cultural life by introducing European customs and taste. The Order’s musical establishment in its church in Valetta employed musicians of considerable talent and a number of distinguished musicians were associated with the Order. See Duane Galles, ‘Chivalric Orders as Musical Patrons’, Sacred Music, Fall 2012, Vol.139, No.3: 25-44.

[2] Bruce R. Schueneman and María De Jesús Ayala-Schueneman, ‘The Composers’ House: Le Magasin De Musique De Cherubini, Méhul, R. Kreutzer, Rode, Nicolo Isouard, Et Boïeldieu’,  Fontes Artis Musicae, Vol.51, No 1, 2004: 53-73.

[3] Geoffrey Álvarez, ‘The singing island’, Musical Times, Vol.157, Iss.1937, (Winter 2016): 114-117.

[4] In ‘Musical Life in Paris (1817-1848): A Chapter from the Memoirs of Sophie Augustine Leo-Part I’, The Musical Quarterly, Vol.17, No.2 (Apr., 1931): 259-271

[5] Otto E. Albrecht, ‘Opera in Philadelphia, 1800-1830’,  Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol.32, No.3 (Autumn, 1979): 499-515.

[6] Elise K. Kirk, ‘Charlotte Le Pelletier’s Journal of Musick (1810): A New Look at French Culture in Early America’,  American Music, Vol.29, No.2 (Summer 2011): 203-228.

[7] J. Warrack, ed.: Carl Maria von Weber: Writings on Music (Cambridge, 1981).

 

Claire Seymour
X

Interview with director Jeremy Gray

X

Interview with director Jeremy Gray

Read arts blogger Mary-Grace Nyugen's interview, which appeared on TrendFem

http://trendfem.com/2018/09/q-a-jeremy-gray-director-of-bampton-classical-opera/


X