After Fidelio and La Petite Bohème, Opera North’s third Christmas streaming is the perennial favourite, Cinderella. This is not the big budget blockbuster with an eighty piece orchestra and a Grand Ball scene to rival that of any Hollywood extravaganza of the 1930s, no, this is the Whistle Stop version comprising three actors, a piano and a violin. To paraphrase the television advert for that other Leeds company, this is not just any three actors, a piano and a violin… this is an Opera North three actors a piano and a violin.
As this will be my last review of the year, unless a miracle happens and the tiers are abolished with life resuming normality in the next week or so, I am determined to have a bit of fun with it. Oh, come on, it is Christmas.
If anyone out there doesn’t know the story of Cinderella, may I welcome you to planet Earth. The rest of you are probably wondering how three people can cover the parts of the Fairy Godmother, Prince Charming, the Wicked Stepmother, the Ugly Sisters and Cinderella, all of whom normally appear in the same scenes, well, they use glove puppets for the Ugly Sisters. Liberties are also taken with the story so, instead of Prince Charming visiting several hopeful brides with a glass slipper, the Fairy Godmother arranges that he and Cinderella meet beneath a magic oak tree where they used to play as children. By the way, the glass slipper is now a glittery trainer. Did you know that Adidas is named after its founder Adolf (Adi) Dassler? These numbers were certainly a pair of dazzlers. I digress. Needless to say, the whole thing ends happily, which is just how I would have loved my 2020 reviews to play out.
Whistle Stop is a brilliant idea aimed at taking opera to the audience, rather than the other way round and presents the major works in condensed form at places like village halls and Working Men’s Clubs. I have seen a previous example of their work in a WMC – well, the beer is usually better than in a village hall. This being Opera North, even though the production is pared down, the talent certainly isn’t and the singing from Marie Claire Breen as Cinderella, Julia Mariko Smith as the Fairy Godmother and Amy J Payne as Prince Charming and the Wicked Stepmother was off the charts. Philip Voldman, piano and Byron Parish, violin, both excellent, make up the ensemble although the latter two are not seen. The final piece in the puzzle is the Designer, Rachel Szmukler.
Unlike the other Whistle Stop productions of which I am aware, this is not a condensed version of an opera but a compilation by John Savournin of interpretations of the Cinderella story using songs from, among others; Rossini, Massenet and Rodgers and Hammerstein.
When you go to the website, which I hope that you do, you will see that there is access to a couple of short videos; one is a welcome and synopsis from the Fairy Godmother, and the other a tutorial in Cinderella’s song from the lady herself. This is not totally important in itself as you can watch the show without needing to be able to sing along, but audience participation is encouraged, even though the spectators are at home rather than in the theatre. The production is obviously meant for family viewing so, being an elderly gentleman watching on my own, I resisted the call to wave my wand high in the sky and then low to the floor. Speaking of wands, the Fairy Godmother’s version had a few feathers at the end which made it look a little like a very sophisticated tickling stick as employed by the late Ken Dodd. Once again, I digress.
The opera was performed to the current social distancing rules and, as there was no audience, other parts of the theatre were utilised. I must say that it looked as though Leeds Heritage Theatres had been as busy cleaning during lockdown as the rest of us, it looked immaculate.
One negative comment, the box in which the subtitles were displayed was not big enough for purpose and so some of the lines of dialogue had the end missed off. It didn’t really matter as you could work it out and the piece was sung in English anyway. It did cause me one titter though when Cinderella was about to tell Prince Charming that that was her real name rather than a nickname her cruel Stepmother and Sisters had given her as she was made to sleep in the cinders by the fire. The fairy Godmother sang that she should give him her real moniker as ‘there is no need to be called by that nasty nick’ again. I had visions of Cinders being stalked by a particularly odious character from the annals of East Enders when, in fact, the subtitle box couldn’t handle the full word ‘nickname’.
Anyway, I found Cinderella to be a lot of fun, both intentionally and accidentally, and I can recommend it to you as 40 minutes and £4.99 well spent over the Christmas break. For details and booking please go to:
Might I finish by wishing you and yours a very happy Christmas and a safe, healthy and prosperous 2021. I think that we all deserve it. Oh yes we do!!!!
Feature photograph Amy J Payne as Prince Charming, Julia Mariko Smith as the Fairy Godmother and Marie Claire Breen as Cinderella rehearsing Whistle Stop Opera Cinderella. Provided by Opera North