Student Review: English Touring Opera’s Cinderella

A mirthful portrait of Cinderella’s family and her struggle for love. A woman-led orchestra and direction, affordable and fully translated to English. An ideal introduction to the world of opera.

Wednesday 8 November, Northcott Theatre
by Khalil Talhaoui

As an opera regular, my preconceptions and expectations were overturned last night. Director and translator Jenny Ogilvie proves that opera can and must be translated to reach as many people as possible. If I had kids or nephews, I would run and take them to this hilarious masterpiece.

English Touring Opera's Cinderella production photo. A mixed group of people, men wearing beige leotards and Napoleonic army uniforms, and woman wearing white frilly dress, move together as if sneaking around. In the centre of the group, a man wearing a golden grown, white fur coast covering themselves with a large piece of blue fabric. Behind them, beige walls with cabinets filled with swords and a large painting of an alpine castle.
Photo by Richard Hubert Smith
English Touring Opera's Cinderella production photo. A steel scaffolding frame. Left to right: A woman wearing a white frilly dress leans back whilst holding onto the frame; a woman wearing a frilly dress sits on top of the steel frame with their legs cross; a man wearing Napoleonic army officer clothing rests one leg on the steel frame and looks up in accomplishment. Behind the man, a piece of beige tarpaulin hung to look like a flying cape on the man. They are all in a beige-walled room, and there is a lilac door behind them.
Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

In Rossini’s version, Cinderella faces a tyrannical father and two castrating sisters. While looking for a bride, Prince Ramiro introduces himself to the family and accidentally meets Cinderella. A series of extravagant adventures follows that take the viewer from laughter to tears. The stage, decorum and performance are modernised, allowing spectators to imagine the scene in the suburbs of Bristol or Devon.

My experience of this show was marked by discovering a classical opera translated into English. Many purists claim that opera cannot and should not be translated. However, Ogilvie managed the impossible. Tonality, meaning, naturalness, singability, and rhythm are all preserved. Ogilvie offers us an understandable and relatable contemporary version. The company succeeded in bringing opera back to the people, through transgressions, and put to bed any sense of elitism. I came out convinced that opera must be adapted to survive.

Finally, Naomi Woo, the Canadian conductor for this performance, is part of a new generation of female conductors demanding and reclaiming these gendered spaces. Although a change has been noted in recent decades, women still represent less than 8% of conductors worldwide. Woo leads the orchestra with precision and vivacity for a meticulous and masterful performance.

English Touring Opera's Cinderella production photo. A man wearing a golden crown, white fur coat and light-blue fabric looks shocked and raises their arm outside a large wooden box they are stood in. The box has a light blue background. To to right of the man with the crown in the same box, another man wearing a white turtleneck jumper and glasses sneers. Beneath them in the box, two women wearing white frilly Regency dresses laugh and look either side of the box. Behind the group of people in the box, (left) a painting of an alpine country scene with mountains, a castle, and sheep grazing on fields; (right) a lilac door with a sign saying 'Staff Only'.
Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

Final Thoughts

If you liked Cinderella as a folk tale, you would love it as an opera. All-female leadership, both the conductor and the director, offer us a perfectly translated and delivered Rossini. Family-friendly, contemporary, and hilariously beautiful, English Touring Opera is at its best in Devon.

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