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Masterpiece Theatre: Part Three - Prokofiev's Cinderella





Prokofiev was Tchaikovsky's greatest successor in the realm of narrative Russian ballet, evidenced by a body of works which have earned a permanent place in the international repertoire. The scenario of the composer's Cinderella is essentially faithful to the beloved tale by Charles Perrault.

Act One serves largely to introduce the characters. The heroine's father is a weak man who fails to protect his daughter from the wickedness of a stepmother and two stepsisters. Cinderella takes pity on an old beggar woman, who reveals herself as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother after all the others have departed for the Prince's ball.

The ball itself is the setting for Act Two, which is dominated by an exquisite, lusciously scored waltz. The Prince and Cinderella, in a classic instance of love at first sight, dance a rapturous pas de deux. The music for this concluding number of the act, when Cinderella realizes she must leave just as the clock strikes midnight, is remarkably powerful and threatening; snarling trombones and bass drum dominate the musical texture.

Act Three focuses on the Prince's search for the mysterious woman he has fallen in love with. To the accompaniment of an amusing recurring passage of "traveling" music, the Prince visits a number of foreign lands. In each he encounters a tempting beauty who dances for him. The next scene, "The Morning After the Ball," opens with all the characters in Cinderella's household discussing the events of the previous night. The Prince arrives in search of his love, and when Cinderella's identity is revealed, the Fairy Godmother magically transports the two lovers to an enchanted realm.

Composed over the span of four years, the score took Prokofiev an uncommonly long time to complete. Because of the German invasion of Russia in 1941, Prokofiev set aside the ballet to take on more patriotic themes, devoting his effort to the epic opera War and Peace (1941-1943). He resumed work on Cinderella after an Allied victory over Germany seemed imminent, and it received a triumphant premiere on November 21, 1945. In the following year Prokofiev extracted three suites from the ballet which have become concert favorites; the third is notable for its incorporation of "The Three Oranges" from the composer's opera The Love for Three Oranges (1919). Other numbers from the ballet found their way into an independent Waltz Suite (1946) that also includes excerpts from War and Peace and the film score Lermontov (1941).

[Article taken from All Music Guide]

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One of my favorite ballets from Prokofiev. I was just revisiting the Michail Jurowski performance on CPO yesterday and found it absolutely riveting. I need to revisit the Ashkenazy recording on Decca as I remember it being outstanding. Then there is Rozhdestvensky who is excellent, especially in the newest remastering from Melodiya.

What do you guys think of this ballet? A masterpiece? Any favorite performances?
 

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I love Prokofiev's Cinderella very much too, it is a magnificent ballet, very colourful about the orchestral tones, lively and suggestive, of great melodic richness and lyrical beauty; thinking that it was composed during the dramatic period of the war, it can sound a bit too light and elusive, but behind the fairy appearance, it expresses a deeper meaning, love realizing itself defeating obstacles and tragic moments.
I don't know many recordings of Cinderella, but my favourite is the Ashkenazy.
 

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I love Cinderella. I much prefer it over Romeo and Juliet, in fact.

The Ashkenazy recording with the Cleveland Orchestra is my go-to. I sampled the Jurowski recording at some point and recall not enjoying it as much, but I don't remember why. Ironically, one of my favorite experiences in the concert hall (and the first time I ever heard any of the Cinderella music) was Michail Jurowski's son Vladimir conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in extracts from the ballet. It was a fabulous performance:


I also enjoy the two piano transcriptions that Mikhail Pletnev arranged and recorded with Martha Argerich:

 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I love Cinderella. I much prefer it over Romeo and Juliet, in fact.

The Ashkenazy recording with the Cleveland Orchestra is my go-to. I sampled the Jurowski recording at some point and recall not enjoying it as much, but I don't remember why. Ironically, one of my favorite experiences in the concert hall (and the first time I ever heard any of the Cinderella music) was Michail Jurowski's son Vladimir conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in extracts from the ballet. It was a fabulous performance:


I also enjoy the two piano transcriptions that Mikhail Pletnev arranged and recorded with Martha Argerich:

Great to read! Yes, Ashkenazy does give Cinderella more of a backbone. I like Rozhdestvensky's a lot, too. The detail in the Michail Jurowski, however, is exquisite. That Argerich/Pletnev recording is outstanding. I love it. I'm also of the same opinion that I prefer Cinderella over Romeo & Juliet.
 

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I really enjoy both Romeo & Juliet and Cinderella, particularly from Maazel and Ashkenazy respectively.

I was absolutely blown away the first time I heard Prokofiev's Clock theme from Cinderella and it continues to affect me. Never saw a staged version, though.
 

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This is precisely what I was thinking. It seems that my theory is correct and pretty much everyone who prefers Cinderella is, indeed, a music-only person.
Well, I'm not big on watching ballet, but I certainly wouldn't turn down seeing Romeo & Juliet if it's with a big name conductor, orchestra and dance company.
 

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Well, I'm not big on watching ballet, but I certainly wouldn't turn down seeing Romeo & Juliet if it's with a big name conductor, orchestra and dance company.
Oh, absolutely. I was just wondering because I just couldn't imagine why anyone who loves ballet as a dance form would consider Cinderella as the greater work. I do actually agree that, musically, Romeo and Juliet's rather significant lead in renown is unjustified, although I tend to watch (rather than listen) productions of both works, and one is not as focused on the music in this case.
 

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Oh, absolutely. I was just wondering because I just couldn't imagine why anyone who loves ballet as a dance form would consider Cinderella as the greater work. I do actually agree that, musically, Romeo and Juliet's rather significant lead in renown is unjustified, although I tend to watch (rather than listen) productions of both works, and one is not as focused on the music in this case.
As a wannabe musician for so many years now, I have always focused on the music. Even in operatic music, as the voices are yammering away, I'm listening to how the music fits into the overall picture. Of course, I'm not saying I don't appreciate the vocals, because I do, but I'm always interested in how everything ties in together musically.
 
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