Exploring Magic and Mystery in the Music of ‘Cendrillon’ with Mark Gibson

The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music continues its Mainstage Series with Jules Massenet’s classic fairytale opera, Cendrillon (Cinderella) at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17 in Corbett Auditorium.

Directed by Robin Guarino, the J. Ralph Corbett Distinguished Chair in Opera, this charming story takes place on the set of a movie where more than just Hollywood magic is in play. In addition to the familiar love story and characters of the original fairytale, CCM’s production includes an added dream sequence, which blurs the lines between dreams and reality.

'Cendrillon' preview photography by Adam Zeek.

‘Cendrillon’ preview photography by Adam Zeek.

Jules Massenet’s enchanting musical score shines under the direction of Mark Gibson, Director of Orchestral Studies at CCM. Graduate student Charlotte Kies had the pleasure of speaking with Professor Gibson about the spellbinding music that brings this opera to life.

Have you conducted Massenet’s Cendrillon before? How is it different from the classic fairytale?
No, this is my first Cendrillon. I’m so excited! The basic shape of the Cinderella story remains the same in Massenet’s opera, but what sets it apart is the exquisitely beautiful music shared by Cendrillon and Prince Charming, as well as the duets between Cendrillon and Pandolfe, her father.

Have you made any changes to Massenet’s original music that the audience might like to know about?
In order to accommodate the concept of the production as envisioned by the director, Robin Guarino, we have made appropriate cuts to move the action forward, but the music is all Massenet and all quite lovely.


“Cendrillon” preview photography by Adam Zeek.

This opera features a handful of offstage musicians. How is their role different from that of the pit orchestra?
Massenet wrote some magical effects for instrumental ensembles performed outside the pit at several moments in the opera. In Act Two, there is a delightful trio of flute, viola and harp that represents an onstage divertissement during the ball. In Act Three, harp, celesta and organ join an offstage chorus to create a splendid effect in support of the fairy godmother’s supernatural presence. Trumpets and drums introduce the final scene of Act Four with a brilliant D-major fanfare when Cendrillon and the Prince are reunited.

Robin Guarino named Cendrillon as one of your personal favorite operas. What are some of the reasons that you love this particular opera?
The music is so wonderful! Stylistically, it moves between neoclassical and rococo forms and lush romantic duets. The story is charming and vocally gratifying. I just find it irresistible.

What are some of the challenges that the orchestra students face in learning and performing this opera?
As in most romantic operas, the orchestra must be flexible in terms of tempo and rubato in order to accommodate the singers. There is also the matter of French style that demands beauty of sound and delicacy of timbre.

One of your students, Yael Front, will conduct a matinee performance of Cendrillon. What kind of challenges do conducting students face when working on a piece of this magnitude, and what are a few of the things you expect them to learn or take away from this production?
First, as always, there is knowing and understanding the text, the design of the story and its dramatic arc. Second, there is mastering the style and sound of Massenet’s orchestration. Finally, there is the pliancy of gesture needed to shape phrases and accommodate the singer’s vocalism. All in all, quite a series of challenges, and Yael Front, a brilliant young conductor from Israel, has proven more than up to them.

Do you have anything else you’d like our readers to know about the music in this production?
Come, enjoy, laugh, cry, rediscover the wonder of theatre, fall in love again with theatre through the music of Massenet’s Cendrillon.

CCM presents Cendrillon on Thursday, Nov. 17 through Sunday, Nov. 20 in Corbett Auditorium. Find more information on the production in the program below:

Performance Times
8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17
8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20

Corbett Auditorium, CCM Village
University of Cincinnati

Purchasing Tickets
Tickets to Cendrillon are $31-35 for general admission, $22-25 for non-UC students and $18-21 for UC students with a valid ID. Customizable subscription packages are also available.

Tickets can be purchased in person at the CCM Box Office, over the telephone at 513-556-4183 or online at ccm.uc.edu/boxoffice.

Parking and Directions
Parking is available in the CCM Garage (located at the base of Corry Boulevard off Jefferson Avenue) and additional garages throughout the UC campus. Additional parking is available off-campus at the U Square complex on Calhoun Street and other neighboring lots. Please visit uc.edu/parking for more information on parking rates.

For detailed maps and directions, please visit uc.edu/visitors.

For directions to CCM Village, visit ccm.uc.edu/about/directions.

CCM Season Presenting Sponsor and Musical Theatre Program Sponsor: The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation

Mainstage Season Production Sponsor: Macy’s

Opera Department Sponsor Mr. and Mrs. Edward S. Rosenthal

Opera Production Sponsor: Genevieve Smith

Story by CCM graduate student Charlotte Kies

CCM News

Performer turned author captivates readers with fictional novels set at CCM

When Susan Jordan began writing her first novel, How I Grew Up, she had just finished directing Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Carousel for the second time in her career. Memories of her time as a student at CCM flooded her mind, inspiring her to write them down into what became The Carousel Series.

Since graduating from CCM with a BFA in Vocal Performance in 1958, Jordan has enjoyed a prolific career in performing, teaching and now writing. Her novels, based on her own personal and professional experiences, tell the gripping stories of musicians faced with painstaking struggles, with whose plights we cannot help but feel a resounding sense of familiarity.

Two of the novels take place in our very own CCM, and the first revolves around Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, most recently produced at the conservatory only months ago in Fall, 2015.

Susan Jordan playing the harp in the pit orchestra for her high school's production of "Carousel."

Susan Jordan playing the harp in the pit orchestra for her high school’s production of “Carousel.”

The song from Carousel “You’ll Never Walk Alone” sets the stage for How I Grew Up. Set in the 1950s, this beautiful and haunting fictional tale reveals the transformative and healing power of music. The novel’s protagonist, Melanie Stewart, is based on a close friend of Jordan’s from high school whose parents were murdered just days before their high school audition for Carousel.

In How I Grew Up, Stewart bravely auditions for the musical within two weeks of her parents’ murder and wins the lead role of Julie Jordan.

In real-life, Jordan remembers her friend coping with the deaths in the only way she knew how — on the stage. It’s a story Jordan has shared with cast members each time she has directed Carousel and now she is sharing it with the world.

“Being part of the production helped her through a traumatic time, and I saw firsthand the power of creativity and how it can not only inspire, but be a healing force,” Jordan said of her friend. “Each of the times I directed the show, in 1994 and in 2013, I shared the story with my young cast members and it deepened their appreciation for what they were doing.”

The subsequent books, which can be read independently of one another, tell stories of two characters from different chapters of Jordan’s life.

Eli’s Heart, is the fictional retelling of the life of late concert and collaborative pianist Samuel Sanders, who suffered from a life-long debilitating heart condition. Jordan knew Sanders when he was just a boy, and a child prodigy with a brilliant career ahead of him. Set at CCM (Cincinnati College of Music) in the 1950s, Eli’s Heart tells the story of a brilliant young musician fighting for a career in music against all odds.

The College of Music of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music merged in 1955 to become the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. It became the 14th college at UC in 1962.

The College of Music of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music merged in 1955 to become the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. It became the 14th college at UC in 1962.

“Since this took place at the time I attended CCM, it gave me a wonderful opportunity to visit that time in my life in a place I loved,” Jordan said. “And the faculty members described in the book are actually portraits of some remarkable people I remember from the school.”

You are my Song, the third in Jordan’s series, brings readers back to the life of character Melanie Stewart. In the novel, Stewart’s close friend Jamie Logan, a promising young tenor, decides to pursue his career in music at CCM in voice. Jordan’s own husband was, in part, the inspiration for the character and life events that unfold in the captivating novel.

“Jamie’s challenges are not so dramatic as Eli’s, but they reflect the challenges, both professional and personal, a young singer encounters as he strives for a career in opera,” Jordan said of her novels. “Having known a number of people who set out on this journey — including some of my own voice students — and the time I spent as a director and working backstage, were greatly helpful in developing this book.”

Susan Jordan

Susan Jordan

This summer Jordan released her fourth installment in the series, titled Jamie’s Children, which tells the troubled tales of You are my Song character Jamie Logan’s musical children.

Laura, daughter of Jamie and Meredith, suffers the burden of being born a musical prodigy: the pressure to exceed the highest of expectations, and her friends’ bitter resentment of her ultimate success.

Niall, a singer-songwriter and Jamie’s second child, suffers internal strife that his psychologist mother suspects might be bipolar disorder.

Jordan has led a fascinating and productive life in the music industry. Shortly after graduating from CCM in 1958, Jordan moved to Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where she would open a voice studio and begin her career as a director of musical theatre.

An ambitious entrepreneur, Jordan built her own musical theatre series from the ground up as part of the Pocono Lively Arts concert series. Her background in opera and musical theatre at CCM, as well as her professional experience as an administrative assistant for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival and Edgecliff Academy of the Fine Arts, provided her the skills necessary to grow her series. She eventually came to direct as many as four theatre productions per year, in addition to co-directing a children’s musical theatre workshop.

Following her husband’s death in 2007, Jordan stepped back from some of her directing responsibilities in favor of pursuing her new passion — writing. Most recently, Jordan was honored by being inducted into the Pocono Arts Council’s Performing Arts Hall of Fame for her lifelong dedication to music and contributions to the Pocono community.

You can learn more about Jordan’s life in the performing arts and her novels on her website.


Story by CCM graduate student Charlotte Kies


CCM Alumni Applause
One of the design inspirations for CCM's new production of THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN.

Discussing the Cycles of Life Presented in CCM’s ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’ with Director Vince DeGeorge

Leoš Janáček’s fantastical opera The Cunning Little Vixen comes to the CCM stage April 8 – 10 as part of this year’s Mainstage Series. To share what inspired his vision for the anthropomorphic production, Stage Director and Choreographer Vince DeGeorge reflected on the relationship between humans and nature with CCM Public Information Graduate Assistant Charlotte Kies.

A mask from CCM's 2016 production of THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN. Photography by Mark Lyons.

A mask from CCM’s 2016 production of THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN. Photography by Mark Lyons.

Could you tell me about your inspiration for the design of the masks in this production?

I’ve had this little vixen figurine for about 10 years. It was a gift from my wife, and it has become a touchstone for this project. You’ll see the geometric nature of the fox sculpture reflected in the masks by third-year graduate student and Costume Designer Oran Wongpandid. They’re very cool looking. There’s a sort of formalism about this little creature that I love, but there’s also a playfulness that embodies the spirit of this production.

CCM’s production of Leoš Janáček’s 'The Cunning Little Vixen.’ Photo by Mark Lyons.

CCM’s production of Leoš Janáček’s ‘The Cunning Little Vixen.’ Photo by Mark Lyons.

How do they use these masks?

They carry the masks and sometimes wear them. They don’t sing with the masks on. One of the things that is most prevalent in this opera is the relationship between humans and animals. The actors come on stage as humans and they transform into animals in front of the audience. It’s a simple transformation through movement and mask work.

Is this something traditionally done, or is this a new idea of your own?

That’s something that I bring to it. Mark Halpin, the designer of the set, and I have never done a show together but we’ve worked a lot together. He sort of understands my aesthetic and he brought his own point of view to it as well. He has come up with this design that I think really embodies this very human aspect of this story. We become animals to tell a very human story.

'The Cunning Little Vixen'

CCM’s production of Leoš Janáček’s ‘The Cunning Little Vixen.’ Photo by Mark Lyons.

What is that human story?

I think the human story is that every day, life is happening all around us. Often times we are too distracted, or aggressive, or controlling to notice. If you actually take the time to be aware, you will experience everything that’s going on around you. You may not experience all of it, but you will be more receptive to experiences. That’s the journey of the Forester, from very aggressive and controlling, to very open and receptive.

CCM’s production of Leoš Janáček’s 'The Cunning Little Vixen.’ Photo by Mark Lyons.

CCM’s production of Leoš Janáček’s ‘The Cunning Little Vixen.’ Photo by Mark Lyons.

The Vixen has a different journey. She starts very innocent, open and receptive. Then events occur that change her to become more aggressive and more controlling. She eventually finds her way back into a much more open and receptive place with her love, the Fox.

What’s so beautiful about this opera is that it runs in cycles, in circles. Someone starts a scene and ends up in almost the same place, but something has changed within them. There is a giant cycle that’s going on within the entire opera and the Vixen has a cycle that’s running through her and the Forester. We don’t see the top of the Forester’s cycle but we see him changing back to this more open and receptive person. The music just cycles and cycles in a wonderful repetition and revision that Janáček is an expert at creating.

That sort of fits in with what I’ve read.

The opera is full of life cycles! But within them are tiny little journeys that are going on within ALL of the characters.

That is one aspect that makes this opera so amazing, and another reason why Mark and I decided to set it in a more distilled, abstract way, as opposed to setting it in the 1920s or in Czechoslovakia. To nail it down to a certain time period could diminish the universality of the performance. It doesn’t have a time period, but I think the story in itself is timeless. I’m not saying this is the way to approach this opera, this is the way we approached it.

'The Cunning Little Vixen'

CCM’s production of Leoš Janáček’s ‘The Cunning Little Vixen.’ Photo by Mark Lyons.

Is this opera often translated into English?

Well, I’m not an expert at that. What I can say is that when I was an undergrad here, David Adams was my voice teacher. Then he did the translation of my first opera here!

That’s a nice little cycle!

Yes, it is! And even though he is a professor emeritus here, David has been at a lot of rehearsals. He has been really involved. It’s been fantastic to work with him in a very different way and still learn from him.

Was it his choice to put this in English?

Actually, David wrote this for Professor Kenneth Shaw’s production here but then retired after spending a lifetime here. This is one of our ways to thank and honor him and the work that he’s done for CCM.

Are English-sung operas a theme this year?

Well, that’s something that we as a department really made an effort to do this year. Both Mainstage Operas were in English, which is more challenging to sing than other languages. The students need to learn how to sing in English and make it understandable and not lose their vocal quality.


Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen runs April 8 – 10 in UC’s Corbett Auditorium. Mark Gibson conducts with stage direction and choreography by Vince DeGeorge. This production will be sung in English, with a new translation by CCM Professor Emeritus David Adams. You can learn more about the production here.

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