Like every year, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, in Paris, invited children aged 6 to 14 to a participatory opera adapted to them: this time, “A Cenerentola”, according to Rossini. We slipped into the audience at one of the school performances, in front of these young spectators who were totally dumbfounded and involved.
Avenue Montaigne, in Paris, shortly after 9 a.m.: in small groups, hundreds of schoolchildren line the gray facade of the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées in a long Indian file, led by their teachers or professors. The pace is lively, almost military, until the entrance, to attend the participatory opera for young audiences entitled A Cenerentola, after Gioacchino Rossini. A recurring theater event with the aim of raising young people’s awareness of classical and opera.
Once inside, here and there, the “wow, that’s stylish!” and other onomatopoeias of wonder in front of the beauty of the Italian room burst out, but the brouhaha stops abruptly as soon as the violins are tuned: 1200 children from 6 to 14 years old, in a silence that makes an impression.
The conductor Alphonse Cemin takes the floor to recall the rules of the game on the participation of children: at his signal, when he turns to the room, the young spectators will be able to sing their tune with the orchestra of the Frivolités Parisiennes. Six sung interventions to which are added body percussion – very popular with the little ones – and an intervention in sign language.
The first song comes very quickly, Once upon a time there was a lonely kingand it requires a slight pacing adjustment. “With its rather slow tempo and its somewhat melancholy character, it is very difficult to put together”, Alphonse Cemin explains to us later. The following airs, the air of the prince or the choruses “to the rhythm of military cavalry, joyful”, he explains, are literally intoned in unison. The effect is stunning.
“Having more than a thousand children singing songs they know by heart, who are very comfortable musically, is great”says the chef. “And then you can hear in their voices that they are delighted to sing, that there is happiness in taking part in the show and singing with the orchestra”. This finally shows, adds Alphonse Cemin, “how well prepared they were by their teachers to sing along with us and follow the story”.
The work presented is an adaptation of The Cenerentola by Rossini made for the occasion. The opera is reduced to 1h15, the text translated into French, but the heroine remains Cenerentola (pronounced tché-né-renne-tola, is it explained in the scene book) and not Cendrillon. The nuance is size, Cinderella is the title of another opera, by Massenet, composed 80 years after Rossini. Do not mix up.
The story is substantially the same as Perrault’s tale. But here there is no stepmother but a stepmother, Don Magnifico, whose wickedness towards his stepdaughter makes him look ridiculous – he is also wearing a very grotesque 18th century double-pointed wig which amuses the children a lot. . No pumpkin either in Cenerentola – deleted -, neither vair shoe – it’s a bracelet -, nor finally good fairy, replaced by a philosopher beggar, Alidoro, who in this production takes on the appearance of a courier.
Guignol and sour candies
The Italian director Daniele Menghini imagined a stage and costumes all in the colors of sour candies – pink, green, turquoise – giving children’s mouths water. At the heart of the stage he erected a modest “Grand Hotel”, Don Magnifico’s new activity, after having squandered all the inheritance of Cenerentola in various gifts to his two capricious daughters, Clorinda and Tisbe. Three bellboys, the “lobby boys”, porters in the hotel lobby, create a joyful atmosphere with their antics. Surely among the most applauded.
It is there that the prince, disguised as a valet – Rossini borrows the trick of exchanging identities from Marivaux – makes a furtive encounter with Cenerentola and immediately falls in love with her. The staging plays the puppet card to the fullest and the actors-singers constantly challenge their young listeners. But who was this girl? How to find her? A few children raise their arms politely, while others simply shout their response.
Like in a pop concert
The last tune is sung by Cenerentola with the enthusiastic audience: “In suffering and tears my heart lived in silence, but a dream full of charm stole my existence…”. The conductor is impressed. “The songs that the schoolchildren have learned are scattered throughout the opera, so the story of Cinderella moves forward and they participate fully”he rejoices. “From a purely acoustic point of view it’s quite incredible, I had never heard that, except in a pop concert, when the singer sings a hit and is taken up by the whole audience”.
“A Cenerentola, after Gioacchino Rossini” at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
Directed by Daniele Menghini
Musical direction by Alphonse Cemin
Parisian Frivolities Orchestra