Cinderella. We all know what happens in this fairy tale. Sitting with great anticipation at St John’s Smith Square to see Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Nicolò Isouard’s Cinderella, I was in awe of how festive and warm the stage appeared. A wooden tree with buds to pick on one side of the stage and a rocking chair next to a fireplace on the other. How charming, I thought. (Is Christmas here yet?)

Many don’t know of the composer Nicolò Isouard, yet he was once a big name in Paris’ opera scene. You can see his bust at the opera house in Paris. As Bampton Opera celebrates its 25th anniversary, continuing to present, preserve and revive rarely performed works, it so happened to coincide with the bicentenary of Isouard’s death, and the rest is history.

Bampton Classical Opera: Isouard’s Cinderella performed by Kate Howden

Bampton Opera first presented their production of Cinderella at home in Oxfordshire, which had a successful two-day run irrespective of the wet conditions for one of its nights. But there was none of that at St John’s except for an umbrella that released silver confetti in between scenes.

One could tell Bampton Opera’s artistic directors Gilly French and Jeremy Gray (read my Q & A with him here) worked hard to reinvent Isouard’s opera in making it accessible for all audiences. By introducing an English translation with new dialogues, they managed to produce a more relatable and engaging production. After all, Isouard composed the opera almost two centuries ago.

There’s a long list of things to enjoy about Bampton Opera’s production. As it was originally composed as French opera-comique, there were quite a few giggles to experience, here, such as the flossing (dance moves), silly catfights between Cinderella’s sisters in hair rolls and dress robes, a wedding cake with Cinderella’s silver shoe served on top, and the inflatable crown worn by the prince’s squire. The unexpected bolero (mixture of flamenco, Cuban, and tango dancing) with the entire cast went down a treat, too, and it worked brilliantly with Isouard’s music.

Alistair Ollernshaw (Baron), Benjamin Durrant (Dandini), Aoife O’ Sullivan (Clorinde) and Jenny Stafford (Tisbe) were stand-out performers. Their characters packed a punch and their personalities were, most, definitely funny.

As Cinderella, Kate Howden was tender-hearted and vocally radiant. Her highlights include her sorrow song to the prince ‘I’m a servant’. While Bradley Smith as the Prince impressed the audience with his soft-toned vocals, including his goofy smile for Cinderella. While Nicholas Merryweather as Alidor, aka fairy godmother, was also strong on stage as a sturdy baritone.

Bampton Classical Opera Isouard's Cinderella - Cinderella and Prince Ramir 2

Bampton Classical Opera Isouard’s Cinderella – Cinderella and Prince Ramir

Musically Isouard’s opera is enchanting and melodious. (At times I heard shades of Rossini and Mozart.) I felt deeply inspired by Isouard’s music as it expressed much of what was happening in the story. In the beginning bars of act 3, the music seems sensitive and moving, featuring sounds of darkness. This may seem too adult for a children’s story, yet for Cinderella’s journey – from being a servant under the orders of her step-father and mean sisters to a humble and modest princess – Isouard shared his enthusiasm for emotion, meaning and symbolism.

On this occasion Chroma ensemble performed superbly with conductor Harry Sever at St John’s. The harp played a significant part in some of the solos, again playing up the fantasy mood, while the singing was simply marvellous. Duets and quartets abound, the entire cast’s vocal instruments were in fine shape.

Bampton Classical Opera: Isouard’s Cinderella – Bolero.

Bampton’s Cinderella showed on Tuesday 18 September. They will be performing Menotti ’s seasonal masterpiece Amahl and the Night Visitors at the St John’s Smith Square’s Christmas Festival and St Mary’s Bampton, OxfordshireClick here for more information on Bampton Opera. For SJSS click here.

The show was reviewed with a complimentary press ticket.