At age 12, "Cinderella" — that is, Jules Massenet’s French opera "Cendrillon" — finally debuted at Metropolitan Opera. Composed in 1899, it took 120 years to reach that famous stage. While the delay may be inexcusable, at least the Met can make amends by programming this delightful work frequently in future seasons. The whimsical production by director and costume designer Laurent Pelly was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2006, where American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato first interpreted the title role. Since then, the production has traveled the world, stopping in Barcelona, Brussels, London, and Lille, France, often with Ms. DiDonato at the lead and British mezzo-soprano Alice Coote appearing opposite her as Prince Charming, a “trousers” role.

Both ladies appeared in the Saturday matinée, April 28, performance flanked by other luminaries, simultaneously broadcast in high definition to cinemas worldwide.

The look of ‘Cendrillon’

Cendrillon’s home is awash with neutral colors and earth tones. The Prince’s palace is regal crimson, magenta, and glittering gold. Oddly, the enchanted oak scene takes place in a library stuffed with oversize books in stacks and on shelves. At home, Cendrillon dresses like a scullery maid; for the palace, she dons a dreamy, gleamy hoop skirt of chiffon and sparkles—ivory tones at the top with the voluminous skirt progressively darkening towards the floor to suggest the woman’s humble station amidst the ashes. An ingenious unit set with foldable walls allows for quick scene changes.

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Across the walls appear lines and paragraphs, in French, from Charles Perrault’s 1697 book of fairytales, specifically the story of “Cendrillon.” According to Joyce DiDonato, Director Laurent Pelly was smitten by that book in childhood, and his whimsical, yet at times serious, production confirms her assertion.

Leading 'men'

Cendrillon’s affectionate but henpecked father, Pandolphe, provides the principal male voice in the cast dominated by mezzo-sopranos and an occasional soprano. France’s bass-baritone Laurent Naouri sings with warmth and soothing tone, especially in his Act III duet with Cendrillon.

Playing Prince Charming is Alice Coote, convincingly dressed and groomed to look very much the handsome male. Her light, supple voice turns alluring in duet with Cendrillon, and the role fits her even better than Idamante in last season’s Mozart rarity [VIDEO] "Idomeneo," another trousers role. Massenet was ahead of his time, depicting his Prince as utterly lonely and depressed, much in need of being rescued by a beautiful, self-confident maiden.

Array of ladies

Israeli mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani and Chinese soprano Ying Fang are Cendrillon’s clueless stepsisters, Dorothée and Noémi, respectively. Heard always in an ensemble, one doesn’t have the opportunity to distinguish their delicious voices from the rest. As their imperious mother, American mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe—who arguably received the most uproarious ovation—is the archetypal wicked stepmother par excellence, singing with fearsome power when things don’t go her way, yet perfectly negotiating all the comedic schtick of her doesn’t-know-she’s-funny self. Joyce DiDonato glows in the title role, which she has inhabited throughout 12 years. She deploys a multifaceted voice that’s best in Cendrillon’s tender passages, and her Tony-Award-worthy acting makes one almost believe she represents a historical character [VIDEO]. Yet there’s more …

Chorus and Orchestra underpinning

Whether eight or 40 members are onstage, Metropolitan Opera Chorus is chameleonic, adapting itself to each vocal situation, but never just blending into the background. Its brief offstage passage in the enchanted oak scene is superbly sensual. French conductor Bertrand de Billy leads an energetic yet sympathetic reading of the score and isn’t afraid of brisk tempi. Under his baton, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra paints a replete palette of symphonic color. Particularly extraordinary for their otherworldly sonorities are the scenes featuring The Fairy Godmother, deftly sung by South Korean stratospheric soprano Kathleen Kim, who is just as kooky as she is commanding in mustering her fairy forces.

Why see ‘Cendrillon’

Four ballerinas and as many dancers interpret the ballet sequences that thread throughout the four acts, displaying numerous styles, always elegant, sometimes zany. The presentation of the princesses from distant realms is priceless, and Italian choreographer Laura Scozzi’s wildly inventive paces for the four ballet couples, the soloists, and 40+ chorus members — who perform the most creative conga you’ll ever see — is itself worth the price of a ticket. And that’s if you manage to survive the upwards of 20 unique, quirky gowns adorning said princesses. How Laurent Pelly accomplishes so much cartoonish couturier alternating between just crimson and burgundy defies belief. And did we say that this is one opera that is totally kid-friendly? In fact, droves of youngsters were present in Saturday’s sold-out crowd.

"Cendrillon," by Jules Massenet has three performances remaining through May 11 at Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, New York, New York.