The Fairy Godmother, a Dream Role

About 3 years ago, a fellow soprano-friend and I were in San Francisco and chatting about repertoire and roles when she suggested I look into the fairy godmother in Massenet’s take on the Cinderella story, Cendrillon. Massenet, I knew, but Cendrillon?

Back then, a YouTube search resulted in only about five Cendrillon clips that weren’t French dubs of the Disney movie, one of which was this recording of Esther Heideman singing La Fée’s aria “Ah! douce enfant.”

One listen, and I was in love.

Over the next few years I learned the aria even though it was on the obscure side and, therefore, not a great audition choice — I wanted to learn it just to learn it and to sing it, even if it was just for myself. I even had the opportunity to learn and perform La Fée’s second big scene, in Act 3, when she works a bit of magic to bring Cendrillon and the Prince together after their first encounter at the ball. Annalise Belnap sang Cendrillon, Kristin Roney sang the Prince, and during rehearsals the three of us would melt into puddles over the way Massenet spun these soaring, pleading lines.

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La Fée with her Cendrillon, Annalise Belnap. ASU Lyric Opera Scenes, 2013.

As I worked on my coloratura skills, La Fée became one of my dream roles. It’s the ultimate gig: you get to look good – what self-respecting fairy godmother doesn’t? – and you get to sing out-of-this-world-amazing music in a handful of great scenes with plenty of breaks in between and without the stress of carrying the entire show. It’s kind of like singing Musetta in La bohème — show up in a great dress, bust out “Quando m’en vo’,” sing in a couple other scenes, and be Mimì’s supportive friend while she does her Puccini heroine thing.

Well, I’m thrilled to announce that my dream is coming true, and I’ll be singing La Fée this October with New York Lyric! I’m also really glad I already learned the Act 3 scene, which in my opinion is the most difficult with lots of arpeggios, staccati, scales, a few high Db’s, and a high Eb. I have some work to do before October to get the coordination back, but the practicing is going very well so far. The coloratura, both the agility and the high notes, are easier now than they were a year ago, and it is so validating to feel the difference.

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Revisiting La Fée after a year apart. New York, 2014.

There are many, many more clips on YouTube now, and it’s exciting to see this delightful and moving work gaining momentum. I imagine a big boost came from the 2011 performances at Covent Garden with Joyce DiDonato as Cendrillon and Alice Coote as the Prince. Be sure to check out Act 3 and 4 on YouTube and Joyce DiDonato’s website for beautiful production photos from Santa Fe.

In addition to the opera showing up more often, “Ah! douce enfant” seems to be making a splash as an aria as well. It showed up in a Renée Flemming masterclass, and there are quite a few YouTube videos too. I don’t personally know any other soprano who uses it as an audition piece, but that’s not a reason not to do it myself …

 

 

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4 responses to “The Fairy Godmother, a Dream Role

  1. Coincidentally I just read about Joyce DiDonato performing in Cendrillon congrats on your dream role I’m thrilled for you.
    Best wishes
    Charlotte

    • Thank you, Charlotte! The performance is in less than a month – I’ll be busy practicing to get the coloratura clean and clear. I haven’t seen the whole opera in-person, but I’ve seen part of it on YouTube. Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote are quite spectacular! And Ewa Podles too!

  2. Dear Joyce,
    Ida and I are back from our summer travels and getting ready to begin the musical year with La Jolla Symphony and Chorus (can you believe that this organization is having its Diamond [60th] Anniversary this season?). I just saw your Weblog about getting your dream role (La Fee in Massenet’s Cendrillon)with the New York Lyric Opera in October. That’s great! We will all be wishing you a wonderful performance and experience. I’ll have to acquaint myself with this opera. I’ve only attended one Massenet opera, The Sorrows of Young Werther, as a very young man living in New York, but my recollection is that the music was terrific.
    Love, Bill and Ida

    • Hi Bill and Ida,
      Welcome back, and I hope your summer travels were full of adventures and happy moments! With the very public challenges that many music organizations have faced recently, I have a big smile on my face as I think about the achievements and milestones reached by LJSC. I know it will be an unforgettable season! Where Werther is serious and grown up with moments of hopefulness and laughter, Cendrillon is very much about dreams and youth – it’s fascinating to see Massenet’s skill in these two contrasting approaches. I will be posting more about Cendrillon soon – there are some facts about the opera and performance history that I think you will enjoy.

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