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Classical 101

Cinderella at Ohio State

Pauline Viardot as Orphée (1860)
D. Philippe
Pauline Viardot as Orphée (1860)"

The School of Music at The Ohio State University presents Pauline Viardot's Cendrillon in Hughes Hall, 1899 College Road. Free shows! All welcome! Thursday, October 17 at 7:30 and Saturday, October 19 at 2 PM. 

Visit the website to learn how you can attend Cinderella, and help House of Hope help kids in foster care.

It’s always nice when my buddy A. Scott Parry stops by for coffee. Scott is director of opera and music theatre at The Ohio State University School of Music. After catching up, and before the coffee got cold, Scott told me about his upcoming production of Cinderella at Ohio State.

Oh? Are you doing Rossini’s opera La Cenerentola, which you have directed wonderfully? Are you doing Massenet’s Cendrillon? How about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella? None of the above.

Cendrillon, the French language story of the unloved orphan saved by a glass slipper, is being done at OSU in an operatic version by Pauline Viardot-Garcia. And therein lie several tales.

Viardot’s Cendrillon follows closely the fairy tale by Charles Perrault (1628-1703). His Cendrillon is the basis for all of the stage versions that have followed. Fairy godmothers, glass slippers, unloved stepsister, pumpkins into coaches…lay all that at the feet of Perrault, a leading member of the Academie Française.

Perrault is the first French-born genius we’ll encounter at Ohio State. Pauline Viardot is the second.

Pauline Viardot-Garcia, nee Garcia (1820-1910) was the youngest daughter of Manuel Garcia, a celebrated tenor who was a favorite of Rossini’s. Senor Garcia was thought to have advised, and in fact mentored, the younger composer through the early years of his fame. Garcia’s elder daughter, Pauline’s sister, became the celebrated diva Maria Mailbran. Maria inspired Rossini, Donizetti and certainly Bellini and was a celebrated mezzo-soprano--a muse to the finest composers of her generation. Alas! Maria died at 28 after falling off her horse, and the toast of opera was no more.

That left Pauline. Where Maria was beautiful, Pauline was plain. Where Maria had a light-textured voice with great flexibility and power, Pauline was reportedly a mezzo contralto. What Pauline did have were brains, charm, and longevity.

Pauline made a huge career in opera and concert. Brahms wrote his Alto Rhapsody for her. She captivated Verdi. Wagner entrusted her to sing the early sketches of Tristan und Isolde. Pauline Viardot’s Parisian salon introduced Gounod and Massenet to the world. She sang, she composed…and she attracted men of music, letters, the stage, politics and the streets to her homes in Paris and Baden- Baden.

Pauline’s life is the subject of a new book by Orlando Figes, The Europeans: Three Lives and the Making of a Culture. The book examines a famous ménage à trois: Pauline, her husband Louis Viardot and her lover Ivan Turgenev. The three lived together in Paris for a number of years. Pauline was also admired by Georges Sand, who lamented that the great lady was run off her feet tending to the elderly Viardot and the irascible Turgenev.

It ain’t easy being chatelaine, diva and saloniste.

Somehow, Pauline found time to be a composer as well. There are volumes of lovely songs, and there’s Cendrillon. This is a full-length opera with dialogue, with piano accompaniment, designed to be performed for friends--the great, the good and the infamous--who attended Viardot’s salons. You need be none of those things to enjoy Pauline Viardot’s charm and a story that will be familiar to you.

Scott Parry’s productions are always entertaining and thought provoking. He’s not afraid to inject some contemporary social consciousness into a charming score written in 1900.

It’s Hughes Hall, not the elegant salon where Pauline captivated the art world well into her eighties. Don’t let that bother you. Viardot provided champagne…and I suppose you can bring in your own Gatorade. Cendrillon is an unhappy orphan whose life works out. Hers is the triumph of kindness.

Now more than ever, right?

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.