Glass slippers cannot be counted as ideal footwear for dancing. But what would the story of Cinderella be without them?
Uptown Opera’s production of Jules Massenet’s “Cinderella” was planned more than a year ago. But the ideal shoes became available only last month.
“We have a Cinderella who wears a size 6 (shoe), and we’ve had people looking in their closets and at every used clothing store for nearly a year trying to find these shoes,” says Marjory Halvorson, artistic director for Uptown Opera. “Finally, our hairdresser was in Atlantic City at a convention and found someone who owned a pair that looked wonderful and are the ideal size.”
Uptown Opera will give six performances of “Cinderella” beginning Saturday at The Met. The cast is headed by soprano Tamara Schupman in the title role, baritone Robert Newman as her father, and mezzo soprano Elizabeth Kopczynski Moore in the trousers role of Prince Charming. Randi Ellefson will conduct.
Other members of Uptown’s “Cinderella” cast include Christie Jones and Ann Brueggemeier as Cinderella’s cruel stepsisters and Diane Johnson as her stepmother.
“Massenet’s `Cinderella’ is not performed all that often,” Halvorson admits. “It’s hard even to find a copy of the score. I stumbled across a copy in Canada when I was in Vancouver.”
Since the opera was a favorite of Uptown Opera’s co-director, Bill Graham, Halvorson bought the music and planning for the production got under way.
“It’s one of those operas that just slipped through the cracks in the repertoire,” Halvorson says. “It has been overshadowed by Rossini’s `Cinderella’ and by Massenet’s earlier operas.”
Despite the rarity of staged performances there is a lone studio recording of it available on the CBS label.
Part of the problem with this 1899 opera comes, not just in locating the score and the right shoes but also in casting. The title role requires a singer with stamina along with a beautiful lyric voice.
“Cinderella has three big arias to sing before the first intermission,” Halvorson says. “And the part of the Fairy Godmother calls for the kind of coloratura pyrotechnics that make Mozart’s Queen of the Night seem like a piece of cake.”
Then there’s Prince Charming. Massenet wrote the part for soprano.
“Unlike some other trousers roles, where a woman sings the part of a child or a teenage boy, Prince Charming calls for a much more manly brand of romantic wonder,” Halvorson says. “It’s a real challenge to make it believable.”
Massenet also posed a problem for small opera companies by calling for elaborate mechanized scene changes. Uptown’s setting is a combination of medieval and fantasy with a set that unfolds like a multifold greeting card. The production also includes dancers and four spirits who sing from a loft above the stage.
Massenet’s original score also requires a large orchestra; Uptown’s production will use a reduced instrumentation prepared especially for these performances by Stefan Kozinski.
xxxx “Cinderella” staged by Uptown Opera Location and times: Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 17 and 18, 8 p.m., all at The Met. Tickets: $26, $20, $14; $21, $15 and $9 for seniors; $8 for students