presented by the Dunster House Opera at Harvard University
Cendrillon by Jules Massenet
Directed by Katherine Moon ’14
Music Directed by George Fu ’13
Produced by Stephanie Havens ’14 and Marina Chen ’15
February 9 – 6th at 8:30 p.m.
Dunster House, Harvard University
Review by Nicola McEldowney
(Cambridge) The thing about going to a college production is this: it takes place at college. Therefore, coming into this production, I felt a great sense of trepidation, because I recently got over my own bout with college and I am still susceptible to triggers. Fortunately, I only have a few symptoms left: occasional twitching, a diploma and a pair of college-apparel socks. But here, it was dangerous: there were post-college stress disorder triggers everywhere. There were all the trappings of university life: the dining hall (where the production took place), the ill-rendered student council campaign poster deftly incorporating the “M-F” word, and of course, the nearly-full take-out container of sushi casually tossed in the trash. This kind of thing can transport you back to your own college days with the kind of nostalgia so profound it requires Kaopectate.
But I need not have stressed. The professionalism of the Dunster House Opera – an entirely student-run organization – was apparent. I arrived early and watched the students work tirelessly and efficiently to convert their dining hall into the set of Cinderella.
Helmed by music director George Fu, Massenet’s opera was sung in an English translation. This presents an inherent problem. Opera lyrics are almost impossible to understand, and English is no exception. The problem, however, is that in English, occasionally a recognizable word seeps through, and then you realize the kinds of schlock opera characters actually go around saying. They say things like: “Oh! I know great sadness.” Or: “Ah! My soul yearns.” If anybody, even a high-octane lyric soprano, said to you in real life, “Ah! My soul yearns,” you would be justified in sticking her head in the toilet.
For this Cinderella, director Katherine Moon has a knack nice aesthetic and comic inspirations. The anachronistic gestures of the mise-en-scène were great highlights of this production. We don’t really need to know when this story is set, and thanks to the juxtaposition of the newfangled (a MacBook) against the oldfangled (the handmaids’ outfits), we never really do. Cinderella’s evil stepmother (Elizabeth Leimkuhler) and sleazy stepsisters (Olivia Miller and Julia Biedry) wear Juicy Couture-type sweatsuits in one later scene, while the latter two lounge on the bed, primping themselves and taking iPhone “selfies”. One of Moon’s best creations is a scene in which a series of silly princesses, all dressed in red, “present” themselves (emphasis on this verb; think of the animal kingdom) to the disinterested Prince Charming. Moon has imagined this scene as a series of “auditions,” which is a nice touch. Particularly inspired is the fact that a few of the hopefuls bring in headshots.