Cinderella at the Royal Opera House review: this lavishly redesigned show is magical, lovely and oh so English

·2-min read
 (©Tristram Kenton)
(©Tristram Kenton)

“Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking.” Despite Meryl Streep’s infamous sneer from The Devil Wears Prada, classic choices persist for a reason, and the Royal Ballet’s new production of Cinderella is a flower-bedecked fantasy just when we need it.

Cinderella (1948) is a homegrown classic, the first English full-length ballet. In Frederick Ashton’s take on the fairy tale, romance is tempered by comedy, elegance by eccentricity: it couldn’t be more English. The ballet has been missing from Covent Garden for 12 years, partly because the previous designs were uninspiringly blah. A new design team – Tom Pye (sets), Alexandra Byrne (costumes), plus colleagues in light and projection – restores the magic.

Cinderella’s vaulted home has seen better days but is transformed by lush-petalled projections when the fairies arrive, while the palace is a witty riot of domes and turrets, and the stage is dotted by Byrne’s pastille-bright frocks. It might even go a touch more gothic – Prokofiev’s music can take it. The score has as much shadow as sparkle, spittingly grotesque yet full of feeling.

 (©Tristram Kenton)
(©Tristram Kenton)

In the first cast, Marianela Nuñez makes Cinders warm as sunshine. A stranger to self-pity, she smiles at her stepsisters’ selfish wrangling, and after the ball lets remembered excitement tingle through her body. After an ethereal entrance on pointe down the palace steps (only true queens can do this), she relishes the chance to dance with someone who isn’t a broom. She makes the most arduous spins look like pure pleasure, and in a heartstoppingly lovely duet, she and Vadim Muntagirov’s immaculate prince swoop through each other’s arms as though time didn’t exist.

A seam of panto runs through the ballet, especially Cinderella’s graceless stepsisters. Later casts will feature women in these roles in which blokes often go over the top. Here, they’re nicely judged: Gary Avis’ sourpuss has a sucking-lemons expression and channels Joan Crawford; a forlorn Luca Acri trots gormlessly in her wake. Each has a yen for screamingly livid shades and far too much ruffle – Avis hits the ball in parrot-tinted plumes and Acri like a raspberry blancmange.

Cinderella is a company show, rich with opportunities. Fumi Kaneko’s incisive fairy godmother introduces a retinue of seasonal fairies including Yuhui Choe’s gusting coppery autumn and Mayara Magri’s icicle-sharp winter. The nicely-drawn palace guests form a luscious wheel of sprites and squires. Everyone digs into Ashton’s crisp yet yearning phrasing.

There’s not much dancing in the perfunctory final act, despite Pye’s twinkling apotheosis, a staircase winding up into the happy ever after. On opening night, Nuñez got an extra prize – a silver medal marking 25 years with company. The audience roared – she’s adored for a reason – and hurled yet more flowers. Florals, for spring? Nothing wrong with that.

Royal Opera House, to May 3;