Ominous trees loom several feet above a young boy. A blithe nightingale floats gracefully around the stage. A bat sweeps forth menacingly with wings spread wide. The trees march forward, exclaiming, “Wicked child!” Even upon stilts, the actors playing the trees move fluidly, while the flying actresses playing the bat and nightingale sing powerfully despite the constricting harnesses they wear.
This is “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges,” one of two fairy tales opening Feb. 19 to kick off Ithaca College Theater’s spring season. Pauline Verdot’s “Cendrillon” and Maurice Ravel’s “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges” are two one-act operas separated by an intermission. While both fairy tales celebrate 20th century French opera, they create two different worlds for the audience.
The songs in “Cendrillon” are sung in French but the speaking parts are performed in English, while all of the songs and dialogue in “L’Enfant” are in French, a creative decision by director David Lefkowich, a lecturer at the college, and the cast. Both operas use supertitles, English translations that are broadcast above the stage.
“It all starts with a ‘once upon a time,’” reads the supertitle during the overture of “Cendrillon,” which presents the age-old story of Cinderella with a few twists. Senior Kristen Gobetz plays Marie, a sheltered girl who is treated like a servant by her family. Though Marie’s story will be familiar to most audience members, there are a few slight differences. For example, instead of an evil stepmother, the villain is a stepfather, played by junior Thomas Lehman.
Without the traditional full orchestra, elaborate costumes and grand scenery that operas are known for, “Cendrillon” is stripped down and organic. Gobetz said the minimalist production of “Cendrillon” allows the audience to connect to the characters.
“It acts as a contrast to the other opera in that it’s very focused on the characters, their point of views and what’s going on inside of their heads and in their world,” she said. “[It’s] less focused on other theatrical counterparts like props
Unlike “Cendrillon,” “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges” (“The Child and the Wild” in English) is an elaborate opera with men on stilts, flying characters and more than 100 costume changes. Lefkowich said actors began to move comfortably on stilts after only one week of rehearsals. He said actresses had to learn different techniques for breathing and singing while in flight, because of the way the harnesses constrictthe diaphragm.
“I have to breathe higher,” said senior Sara Mowery, who plays La Chauve-Souris, the bat. “I can’t connect to my lower body and ground myself either because I’m dangling in the air.”
L’Enfant, the main character played by senior Mallory Berlin, is a bratty 7-year-old boy who takes advantage of the people and objects around him. After his mother sends him to his room, L’Enfant proceeds to torment the clock, books and china that clutter his room.
The objects come to life in a fury, seeking revenge on the child. The costumes and set are purposefully large and elaborate to allow the audience to see everything from a child’s perspective, in which the world is large, magical and sometimes frightening.
Berlin said the musical variety of the opera is an aspect she finds interesting.
“The great thing about Ravel, who wrote the opera, [is] the different styles,” she said. “[For example] the Chinese teacup sings in this fake Chinese style. It’s really cool to see the dynamics of all the characters interacting with my character.”
The operas bring together the age-old tale of Cinderella and the lesser-known story of L’Enfant to create a magical experience for the audience.
“L’Enfant et les Sortilèges” and “Cendrillon” will be performed at
8 p.m. today, Saturday, Wednesday and Feb. 27, with a matinee offered at 2 p.m. Sunday in Hoerner Theatre in