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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Cendrillon at Komische Oper Berlin

    Cendrillon, conte de fées en quatre actes, sung in French (1899), subtitled in German, French, English, and Turkish
    Music by Jules Massenet
    Libretto by Henri Cain, after Cendrillon ou La Petite Pantouffle de Verre by Charles Perrault

    A production by the Komische Oper Berlin - this review is of the last show of the season on July 10, 2016, attended in person by Opera Lively

    Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin conducted by Henrik Nánási
    Stage Director Damiano Michieletto
    Choreography Sabine Franz
    Sets Paolo Fantin
    Costumes Klaus Bruns
    Dramaturg Simon Berger
    Chorus Master Andrew Crooks
    Lighting Alessandro Carletti

    Cast

    Lucette / Cendrillon - Opera Lively interviewee Nadja Mchantaf
    Madame de la Haltière - Agnes Zwierko
    Le Prince Charmant - Karolina Gumos
    La Fée - Caroline Wettergreen
    Noémie - Mirka Wagner
    Dorothée - Zoe Kissa
    Pandolfe - Werner Van Mechelen
    Le Roi - Carsten Sabrowski

    -----------

    This was the very first time I attended a performance in a German opera house, and I'm highly impressed! The evening was a pleasure from start to end, not only for the musical and staging quality of the performance, but also for the company's hospitality, charm, and class.

    The Komische Oper is a very nice organization. My companion Opera Lively staff member Jim Wieber has long experience with the Komische, where he saw his first opera ever (The Tales of Hoffmann) decades ago, when the company was still part of the DDR, beyond the Berlin Wall. He confirmed that they are enthusiastic and engage in these classy touches, such as offering a free glass of wine to all patrons as we come in, and giving us chocolate truffles as we leave the theater, packed in cute square boxes with the company's logo. Oh, and the playbill is very beautiful looking like a small paperback booklet with fabulous color pictures; it is for sale (seems to be the case in most German houses) but we got a voucher for a free copy, courtesy of the company's Press Office.

    The theater is extremely beautiful from the inside, with this contrast of a modern, sleek foyer with beautiful champagne bars, and the ancient auditorium with striking ornamentation.

    The production was very entertaining and with many strengths. I'm not the biggest fan of Massenet's Cendrillon given that I can't help but compare it with the much livelier Cenerentola by Rossini. Certainly Massenet's music has lovely moments and is very elegant, but theatrically speaking, Rossini's piece just works better for me. So, I had relatively low expectations, thinking that I might be bored, including due to how tired I was, having slept only two hours last night, going to bed at 3 AM after finishing up the review for La Scala's Simon Boccanegra, and taking an early flight to Berlin which made me wake up at 5 AM.

    I was far from bored. Much the opposite, I was highly entertained. Mr. Michieletto's clever stage direction made the work much more enjoyable.

    His concept worked very well: Cendrillon is a ballerina, and in the middle of her career she suffers a devastating knee injury. She is being cared for at a hospital, with a hospital bed with ortho supports and large knee braces on her right leg. She is in pain and desperate, with her future curtailed. Auditions are held at the ballet school to find the new ballerina. When the fairy shows up and sends her to the ball with the prince, it seems like it might have been a dream, given that in the ball she is able to dance again (it helps that Nadja Mchantaf had 10 years of background as a dancer before she switched to opera singing) but once she makes it back home we see her waking up and being horrified at seeing that her leg injury remains just as bad. At one point she tries to commit suicide. The production addresses the contrast between a bleak reality and her dream of getting back to full health. Instead of glass shoes, ballerina shoes are the focus. The happy ending suggests that the prince and Lucette accept that she can no longer dance, with the indication that he loves her anyway.

    It did make the opera feel a lot darker, which agreed with me (I almost invariably prefer tragedy to comedy). Nadja did a lot of crying and had to put to good use her acting chops.

    Nadja is a young singer, fresh out of the Semperoper Dresden ensemble (first in the Young Artist track, then fully engaged by the company's fixed ensemble where she did over 40 different roles), and recently hired by the Komische. Obviously this was a very good hire, since Nadja is very charming, pretty, and with good voice and acting. I anticipate that she will have a nice career ahead of her. This production is very demanding with a more dramatic content that makes her shout a lot, and she is very physically active with the dancing, the jumping around in one leg with clutches, etc. Nadja showed great stamina, not slowing down vocally or acting-wise until the end.

    Singing tonight was of the highest quality across the board. In addition to Nadja, Karolina Gumos was simply excellent in the pants role of the Prince, almost stealing the show with her singing. Caroline Wettergreen was in great voice as well, navigating well the high notes and soaring melody of her role. All three of these women got delirious applause in the end. Werner Van Mechelen's singing was also great. Acting by all these principals was accomplished, with Karolina nailing with perfection her androgynous figure, and Caroline was very convincing in the role of an older woman (with help from wigs and make-up).

    In the last few days I've been treated to some outstanding casts in Aix-en-Provence, and I must say that these singers from the Komische are not far behind.

    Comprimarios were a notch below the principals. I thought that Agnes Zwierko acted better than she sung. Mirka and Zoe were correct but not outstanding as the two sisters, including, because they look rather attractive, while in most stagings the sisters are depicted as hideous. Being too attractive is usually not a minus, but in this case it worked against them. Anyway, this staging doesn't go for the comic effect, so the two sisters' role is a bit diminished by this.

    The production had various other nice touches, with for example some of the comprimario roles appearing as jurors in auditions for the ballet school where the plot is developed in Michieletto's concept. When Cendrillon engages in a dreamy sequence about her dancing, stage hands walk around with dry ice fog makers spraying them at the singers, and two professional dancers come in and perform beautiful choreography. An old lady is a silent observer of the action - likely she is Cendrillon herself remembering her past. Some of the ladies being offered to the prince are... the male chorus singers in drag. They carry a faceless image of Walt Disney's Cendrillon. During a dream sequence, carton sets are dropped down from the top, evoking the classical ballet of the same name, by Prokofiev.

    Blocking was extremely accomplished, with very well orchestrated movements on stage with the large chorus, and a very acrobatic scene in which, when Cendrillon is leaving the ball terrified at the stroke of midnight, she takes off running, then from the right of the stage doctors/nurses come running pushing her hospital bed in wheels, and Nadja jumps on it at full speed and is yanked out of the scene on the left of the stage. A fraction of a second off, and Nadja would have risked a knee injury herself... but she made the leap perfectly.

    Lighting was very nice with bright colors being thrown on different parts of the stage in various occasions. Costumes were either regular contemporary, or more garish and interesting for the more flamboyant characters. There was a sort of special effect when Madame de la Haltière is seen twice on stage simultaneously. Her doppelganger looked sharp and real, and I don't know how they accomplished it: with mirrors? with a person who looks just like the singer? with projections? It seemed so well done that I couldn't figure out how they did it.

    Sets were bleak and bland in purpose, given that the action is held in the derelict ballet academy owned by Madame de la Haltière.

    The orchestra was very good, with full and resonant sounds, good pace, good transitions, and good instrumental playing. The one thing about conducting is that the maestro allowed his forces to drown the singers in a couple of occasions, with the orchestra playing too loudly. Nice chorus too.

    In summary, practically all elements of this production were of high quality, from the physical production to the theatrical aspects to the singing and the playing.

    Jim and I had lots of fun. It was another one of those evenings when everything clicks, so overall I grant to this show an A++. I've been granting a lot of A++s lately, but I hope it's not grade inflation: I have just been lucky to witness some outstanding productions in the last couple of weeks.

    This one is highly recommended; too bad that it was the last show of the season.

    Stay tuned for an interview with the charming Nadja Mchantaf (with participation of the company's Pressesprecherin Dr. Andrea Röber), completed, pending transcription and publication.

    Bravo, Komische Oper Berlin!

    A few pictures of the theater and the curtain calls will follow, then a YouTube trailer, and production pictures credited to Monika Rittershaus.

    --------------

    Dear readers, do plan to attend the Komische Oper productions in your trips to Berlin. This is a very good company and the new season (2016-17) seems promising, with very avant-garde productions that restart on October 9, 2016.

    Il Barbiere di Siviglia - from the pictures, it seems like a very sexy production updated to current times
    Peter Pan, contemporary children's opera by Richard Ayres
    Die Perlen der Cleopatra, operetta by Oscar Strauss (1923)
    Marinka, musical by Emmerich Kálmán (1945)
    Petruschka by Igor Stravinsky, in double bill with Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilèges (both also in contemporary clothes and very sexy)
    Der Jahrmarkt von Sorotschinzi, opera in two acts by Modest Mussorgski (unusual fare, I hadn't heard of this one - done in a modern nightclub setting
    Reimann's Medea (2010), another contemporary piece
    Zoroastre by Rameau (1756) also done in contemporary costumes (seems like this is a hallmark of the Komische) - This one ends the season, going until July 14, 2017
    There is also a Turkish Music Festival, Sept 16-18, 2016

    All of the above are new productions. Then there is also the repertoire season (short runs done by the company's fixed ensemble), which will show:
    Die Zauberflöte
    Orpheus (Monteverdi)
    Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
    Eugene Onegin
    Schneewittchen und die 77 Zwerg (children's opera)
    Les Contes de Hoffmann
    Carmen
    Eine Frau, die weiss, was sie will! (musical commedy by Oscar Strauss)
    Rusalka
    Don Giovanni
    L'incoronazione di Poppea
    Ball im Savoy (operetta by Paul Abraham)
    Heute Nacht oder nie - Die Spoliansky-Revue (seems like a cabaret spectacle)
    My Fair Lady, the musical

    Our interviewee Nadja Mchantaf will be doing Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, Micaëla in Carmen, the title role in Rusalka, and one of the roles in L'Enfant et les Sortilèges.

    The company also does a 6-day festival in the summer, with six of the season's new productions presented in consecutive days; it will happen from July 11 through July 16, 2017

    Get more information and tickets at the company's website, by clicking [here] for the pages in English.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 11th, 2016 at 09:52 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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  3. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Name:  P1070178.jpg
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    The unassuming facade (Photo credit Opera Lively)

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    Free cups of wine for the patrons (Photo credit Opera Lively)

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    One of the beautiful bars (Photo credit Opera Lively)

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    The interior (Photo credit Opera Lively)

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    During intermission patrons pour out on the street where the company also installs a sidewalk bar (Photo credit Opera Lively)

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    Curtain calls. Principal singers are seen third from the left (Van Mechelen), fourth (Gumos), fifth (Mchantaf), and eight (Wettergreen) (Photo credit Opera Lively)

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    The entire cast (Photo credit Opera Lively)
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 11th, 2016 at 09:49 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    YouTube trailer for the performance (copyright Komische Oper Berlin):



    Production pictures, kindly authorized by the Press Department:

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    Cendrillon and the Prince with the ballet sets (Photo credit Monika Rittershaus)

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    The ladies being offered to the prince with the Disney character (Photo credit Monika Rittershaus)

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    These effects of green and blue were achieved with lighting (Photo credit Monika Rittershaus)

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    The sisters and the mother (Photo credit Monika Rittershaus)

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    Cendrillon able to dance again after the fairy's intervention (Photo credit Monika Rittershaus)

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    In the ballet scene they brought in two real dancers; the female one is depicted here (Photo credit Monika Rittershaus)
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 11th, 2016 at 09:47 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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