"Tuesday's official first night in Birmingham was musically so superb that only the most determinedly mean-minded curmudgeon could deny that they had been present at the unveiling of a little masterpiece. Everything was right; the conductor, the orchestra, the carefully prepared singers all caught at just the right stage of their careers.

The conductor in question was Patrick Fournillier, a Massenet specialist, presiding genius of the summer festival in the composer's birth-pace of St Etienne and responsible for many authoritative Massenet recordings. Not only does he know exactly how the music should go - lightly, pacily, with a flick of the wrist and the occasional tug at the heartstrings - but he was able to communicate that knowledge to the WNO orchestra. The playing was crisp, elegant, perfectly balanced and headily perfumed where appropriate. I cannot have been the only member of the audience enchanted by the sheer exuberance of Massenet's orchestral invention and the brilliance with which it was executed.

Fournillier also helped a British cast singing in English sound like French singers of the old school in the breadth of the phrasing, the pliant moulding of the vocal lines and pungency of the projection.

But Christmas is upon us, the audience loved it, and nothing could spoil conducting and singing of such heart-warming distinction."
Rodney Milnes, THE TIMES

"When Cendrillon was performed at the Manchester College last year how on earth I concluded that it was Massenet below his best I cannot imagine. After hearing Welsh National's production, the first professional staging of this opera in Britain, I apologise unreservedly to the shade of a composer I revere.

Perhaps I have some excuse, for it is not often that one hears a Massenet score conducted with such total sympathy and insight as Cendrillon was on Tuesday at Birmingham Hippodrome by Patrick Fournillier, musical director since 1988 of the Massenet Festival, making his British debut.

Those endearing phrases which wrap themselves round the heart he caressed with a loving touch that was never sentimental. The gaiety and colour of the score, as well as it's Manon-like tendresse, shone and sparkled; and the orchestra played with warmth and refinement of tone. Like the opera, it was magic.

...this is an evening in the theatre to lift the spirit. The production moves to Oxford and Bristol before returning to Cardiff. It's worth travelling miles to catch."

August 2019



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