Cendrillon: Love, Magic, Passion, and a Dream

Tonight, Suzanne and I saw the encore presentation of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD production of Cendrillon. Cendrillon is Jules Massenet’s take on the Cinderella story. A few years ago, the Met presented Rossini’s version, entitled La Cenerentola, which I have reviewed at https://celebrationcenter.org/la-cenerentola-forgiveness-and-the-power-of-our-word/

We all know the Cinderella story, the story of the girl who is treated as a maid by her mean stepmother, made to do all the dirty work, dreams of going to the ball, is granted her wish by her Fairy Godmother, meets the prince, falls in love, leaves her glass slipper behind, is found by the prince by means of the slipper, and becomes his princess. It’s one of the world’s favorite fairy tales.

Add to it Massenet’s gorgeous music, and you have a masterpiece – one that is making its debut at the Met, with a wonderful cast including Joyce DiDonato as Cendrillon, Alice Coote in the trouser role of Prince Charming, Stephanie Blythe as the stepmother, Laurent Naouri as the father Pandolphe, and Kathleen Kim having a wonderful romp as the Fairy Godmother.

There were a few points in this presentation of the familiar tale that struck me. Early on, as Cendrillon (Cinderella) is wishing she could go to the ball instead of having to stay home and do these chores, she observes that “there is joy in doing what must be done.” A profound observation. It is important to have a dream, but it is always worthwhile to see the joy in the mundane. See the joy in what is right in front of you.

All the women at the ball are wearing red, but her Fairy Godmother sends Cendrillon in a gorgeous white gown that suggests a wedding gown. She and the prince immediately fall in love. When the prince asks her name, she says she is the unknown. Is this perhaps a reminder to embrace the unknown lovingly?

Here is a dream Cendrillon was passionate about – the dream of going to the ball. And it happens, as do other dreams later in the story. I was struck by the idea of being passionate about your dream. It is the dream we follow with passion that manifests. She dreamed it and invested “fire” into it (to use Ernest Holmes’s term), and she got it. It takes that energy to make it happen.

We all know that when she leaves the ball, she loses the famous glass slipper (which was invested with the magical power to make her unrecognizable to her stepmother and stepsisters.) Whether it’s the Brothers Grimm, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Disney, Rossini, or Massenet, this is presented as an almost accidental effect of having to rush out of the ball because midnight is striking.

Is it? Or did she subconsciously leave it for the prince to find her? How else will he find a servant girl like Cendrillon? The job of the subconscious, after all, is to produce what you ask for. What Cendrillon really wants is the love of the prince. And while we are always choosing, not all the choices we make are conscious. Many are not. Instead of losing her glass slipper in a rush, could Cinderella have made a subconscious choice to leave it there as a means to produce what she dreamed of? I’ve often wondered about that.

But that dream seems so far off as to be unachievable. Cendrillon has to remind herself to let it go. By letting it go, letting go of the attachment to the outcome, she opens the way for her dream to come true.

There is a wonderful scene in the forest, where the Fairy Godmother has arranged for Cendrillon and Prince Charming to meet, but not to see each other. They profess their love, she tells him her name, and the Fairy Godmother tells them to love each other because time is brief and to believe in their dream.

When she returns to the house, Cendrillon’s father persuades her that it was just a dream, but she overhears her sisters talking about the prince having called princesses from far and wide to try on the glass slipper, and she knows that her dream was real. She calls her Fairy Godmother, who sends her again to the palace, again resplendent in her gorgeous white gown. Of course, the slipper fits her and she becomes a princess. Dream realized.

I loved Cendrillon. The music is gorgeous and the story conveys several important messages. If you ever get to see a production of this opera, put it on your list.