What a lovely evening I had last night with two friends!
First, we met for supper at Zen Ya, a lovely Japanese restaurant hidden on the second floor on a building on Ste-Catherine West. I had delicious sushi and a lovely appetizer of galettes de deux saumons, layers of smoked and raw salmon on a crispy rice base. Yum!
The true object of the evening was the Opéra de Montréal production of Massenet's Cendrillon (Cinderella).
I have to start with the sets. At the opening, there was a kooky arch with a sign spelling "Cendrillon" in lights, which I didn't really care for. It looked a little tacky for what I expected, and I'm glad to say it didn't stay long.
The main set which arrived afterward – the kitchen of Cinderella's family home – was like some kind of crazy cross between a Dali painting and a box of pale pastels. Giant kitchen appliances soaring skyward and a 50's looking table at the centre on a much smaller scale, made for the humans who sang there. I'm not sure if I was more surprised by Cinderella emerging from inside the stove, where she was cleaning, or by her fairy godmother stepping pout from behind an old looking test pattern on the TV way up on the counter and descending by using a series of pulled-out drawers as her stairs.
The ball brings us to a theatre space where they have cleverly inked on the marquee "Bal Princier." The big problem with this was the clock, which lost control of its minute and hour hand, so Cinderella rushed out when the clock struck…11:20. Nothing else really stands out about this set, so on to the next: the drive-in cinema! A giant boat of a car sits centre stage and a screen descends from above – a screen on which is projected black and white movies of historical princesses getting married to princes. How big is the car? It's so big that when the prince and Cinderella get in, they are not even aware of each other's presence (opera is fun that way) and we can barely see their heads above the dashboard!
One other set to mention is the suburbs, where Cinderella's father moves with her and, it seems, with step-mother and step-sisters, after a post-ball dispute. Or maybe they were always in the suburbs? Rows of identical houses layed out in that peculiar suburban way of patterning streets, all visible painted on the backdrop.
Costumes, you ask? Fascinating. A whole lot of garish shades of the pastels in the background on the main characters. The best, however, was the Las Vegas style performing at the Bal Princier. The dancers were wearing giant headdresses that looked like cocktails and they even lit up at a particular moment in the performance. Oh, and the slipper. In the opera, only one glass slipper is ever worn, and it renders Cinderella unrecognizable to those who know her. When she put it on, I swear it lit up like the whole thing was made of glow in the dark material, way better than those running shoes that light up on impact. I still can't believe, however, that no one noticed she was wearing two different shoes (the Bal Princier was obviously not held in a club in Montréal!) and there was no mention of how difficult it was to get back home with only one shoe on after midnight.
And just because we are delaying getting to the singing, a few words about acting and other elements of movement. I don't think I have ever seen as much dancing in an opera, and this was not just at the Bal Princier. The bevy of foreign princesses competing for the prince's attention were a collection of acrobats and contortionists, doing things like ironing while doing a handstand on the ironing surface or tossing a baby around in a most entertaining but not very motherly way. Some extras who looked a little like feral Mr. Cleans ventured into the audience during the cinema scenes to hand out popcorn, which was most odd. Back at the house post-ball, there was some slapstick that looked a little too much like domestic violence for my comfort.
Okay, it was the opera, so what about the singing? Well, things did not start well. I could barely hear Cinderella's father as he sang, and I'm not sure whether it was he, or the set eating the sound. Others were more audible and sang quite nicely. But you need more than a nice voice, and I may be a little too prejudiced in favour of Italian opera, with its catchy tunes and repetition of the best lines, to rave about this one. There were a couple of very lovely songs that I thoroughly appreciated.
One other note: at one point during the performance there was so much coughing around us in the crown that I thought there was some kind of H1N1 outbreak. Yikes! Get a lozenge, people!
All in all, as you can see, an enjoyable night out.