Martin’s Lovely Cinderella Ballet, a Neglected Gem
By NICK D
The great Swiss composer Frank Martin’s ballet Das Märchen vom Aschenbrödel (The Fairy Tale of Cinderella) was composed in 1941 and first performed the following year in Basel. Although a success, it was not staged again until 2010, in Geneva, when it was enthusiastically received by audiences and critics alike. The conductor and orchestra of that production have now made the world premiere recording of this delightful work.
A concise 3-acter, the ballet requires a medium-sized orchestra and four singers (soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto and tenor) who both narrate and “voice” the various characters. Eva-Marie Kreis’s scenario follows the Grimm brothers’ version closely, including such gruesome elements as the step-sisters’ mutilating their feet in order to squeeze them into the golden shoe. Much of the sung and spoken text comes directly from Grimm, and the only major addition is a beneficent Fairy who comes to the heroine’s aid at a crucial point in the story.
Martin’s score is delightful, with a wide range of styles and solo instruments for the different characters: wistful oboe for Cinderella, ethereal flute for the Fairy, sleazy saxophones for the vain step-sisters, and pompous trombone for the ambitious stepmother. The music for the “steps,” with its worldly jazz element, contrasts beautifully with the spiritual depth of that for Cinderella, particularly in her desolate Act I solo (crowned by a wordless vocalise for mezzo-soprano) and in the graceful, limpid pas de deux when she and the Prince meet and fall in love. After the couple part, this melody eloquently evokes their mutual bond and the pain of separation; for the final wedding tableau, Martin develops it into an ecstatic mini-apotheosis. Throughout, there is charm, humor and emotional depth in abundance, embodied in a wealth of good tunes, inventively orchestrated.
The accomplished student musicians of the Geneva University of Music Orchestra clearly relish their many solo opportunities, and enter thoroughly into the spirit of the piece. Great credit goes to conductor Gábor Tacács-Nagy, who guides them with an experienced hand and a sure instinct for bringing out the expressive potential of the score. The singers, all young professionals, bring fresh voices and clear diction to their music, and characterize their roles with zest.
Accompanying materials include an excellent program note in French/German/English, complete vocal texts (with some errors) in German/French, and a separate descriptive list of musical numbers in German only. Keep a copy of Grimm nearby and you should have no trouble following the action. Highly recommended.