Today we’re listening to…
"Ah! que mes soeurs sont heureuses” a mezzo-soprano aria from Act I of the French opera Cendrillon by Jules Massenet. Cendrillon (son-Dree-yonh) is an opera in four acts based on Charles Perrault’s 1698 version of the fairy tale. Frederica von Stade (known in the opera world as “Flicka”) is singing the role of Cinderella here. Massenet’s simple, sweet, and tender melodies combined with Frederica’s vocal beauty, vulnerability, and grace are perfect together. This piece is tender and it sparkles. ✨
🎧 Listen here (7 minute listen):
I recently learned that there are over 350 versions(!) of the fairy tale Cinderella. In Massenet’s version, the death of Cinderella’s mother impacts her much more deeply and her father plays a bigger role than in the familiar Disney film.
In this aria, instead of Cinderella’s first thought being one of anger or resentment that her sisters are going to the ball instead of her, she talks about how happy they are, of course with some envy, but definitely not with ill will. Although this melody is simple and almost child-like, for the singer it is also challenging.
Ah, how happy my sisters are!
Every day is a new pleasure for them!
Massenet’s Cendrillon differs from Rossini’s La Cenerentola (the more popular Italian opera version of the fairy tale). In Massenet’s version there is more of an emphasis on the romance between Cinderella and the prince. While Rossini’s prince is sung by a tenor voice, Massenet’s Prince Charming is a “pants role”. Pants roles (roles written for male characters but sung by women, often mezzo-sopranos) are also known as “trouser roles.”
Massenet was born in 1842 and went to the Paris Conservatory at 11 years old after being taught by his mother. He died on August 13, 1912 in France. He wrote 25 operas in his lifetime along with over 200 songs and other works. Massenet is best known for the operas Manon and Werther (both of which you will be hearing about in future updates).
This particular style of French music is similar to the Italian bel canto style—long lyrical lines with a focus on the melody. If you want to hear more Cendrillon with Frederica von Stade you can listen here. I also recommend Joyce DiDonato singing the role of Cendrillon.
Thank you for listening,