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Cinders goes to the ball - again!

Camilla Seale as Le Prince Charmant, Nikki Martin as Marie, called Cendrillon in Cendrillon at the Buxton International Festival in 2021 Credit Genevieve Girling
Camilla Seale as Le Prince Charmant and Nikki Martin as Marie (called Cendrillon) in Cendrillon at the Buxton International Festival in 2021 All pics: Genevieve Girling

The Lowry in Salford hosts a first at the beginning of February – the opening night of the first-ever touring show to come out of the Buxton International Festival.

It’s a salon operetta called Cinderella (re-titled from Cendrillon, the French flag under which it sailed at the BIF in summer, 2021). There are two nights at The Lowry (February 3-4), and two at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield (February 9-10). The show also visits the Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry, and Norwich Theatre.

The operetta was written early in the 20th century by the singer, teacher and composer Pauline Viardot – who frankly was quite a woman, the younger sister of world-famous soprano Maria Malibran (whose untimely death after a Manchester Musical Festival vocal sing-off in 1836 is sometimes even now seen as a distinction in the city’s cultural history). One of the great mezzos of the 19th century, Pauline spent some of her adult life in a cheerful menage-a-trois with her husband and the novelist Turgenev.

Her reputation in her day was as a performer. She spent most of her time in the company of the aristocratic and cultured elite (as did most serious artists then), and of course she taught private pupils.

Her compositional gifts, though good enough for her to take lessons from Liszt, seem to have been practised mainly in creating entertainment for her own salon and giving her pupils performance opportunities along the way. One such was Cendrillon, written when she was in her eighties: it’s a comic opera (with spoken dialogue) – not quite like Offenbach or Gilbert and Sullivan, but not far off. Piano-accompanied, it offers a succession of charming and pleasant tunes, with some duets and ensembles of which the most notable is a sextet that ends Act One.

In 2021 the “Young Artists” of Buxton International Festival – mainly studying in Manchester’s halls of musical academe – brought her Cinderella adaptation back to life under the direction of festival head of music Iwan Davies (who is also MD on this tour). The director is Laura Attridge, who has translated and adapted the dialogue into English – though the musical numbers are sung in the original French (with titles) – and design is by Anna Orton.

The story is the familiar European Cinderella (as set to music by bigger names than Viardot). Cinders’ sisters are not so much ugly as vain, and not really very nasty, and Prince Charming appears disguised, mainly as his own Chamberlain. His is a woman’s “trouser” role, and the main event at the ball is when the girls are each invited to sing – Viardot leaves it to the performers to select their own contributions here.

Cinders’s father (“Le Baron”) really is a Baron Hard-Up, and Viardot’s text makes much of the fact that he’s not much of a real baron because he made his money as a grocer – in trade, my dear!

When I saw it at Buxton the work was very well sung by the central quartet of Nikki Martin (Cendrillon), Camilla Seale (Prince Charming), and Olivia Carrell and Flora Macdonald (the sisters).

For the tour, Erin Gwyn Rossington is La Fee (the Fairy Godmother), Christopher Cull is the Baron, and David Horton is the Chamberlain.

More info and tickets here

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