Laurent Pelly talks to The Telegraph about 'Cendrillon' at the Royal Opera House

30 Jun 2011

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Laurent Pelly has been interviewed by The Telegraph about 'Cendrillon' at the Royal Opera House. Read the interview below or click here to read the full interview on The Telegraph's website.

'I love coming here.” Laurent Pelly is a guest with impeccable manners. “It’s the theatre, the place, the professionalism, the competence of the whole house. I adore the chorus here. They constantly want to act, to interpret. There are opera houses where the chorus are like civil servants.”

Pelly, 48, pouting like a grizzled, Gallic matinee idol, sits in a glassed-off room where the Royal Opera House’s stars do their interviews. And there’s no doubt that Pelly is one of the building’s directorial stars. His rambunctious globe-trotting production of La fille du régiment, which in London starred an eye-catching combination of Natalie Dessay and Dawn French, has already been revived once, and is scheduled for two more (as yet unannounced) returns. Last year, his Massenet’s Manon with Anna Netrebko triggered another shower of plaudits.

So audience expectation will be high when Covent Garden gets its first sighting of Pelly’s Cendrillon, in which Joyce DiDonato is to reprise the lead role she first took when Pelly staged the French version of the Cinderella story five years ago in Santa Fe.

“It was the first Massenet I had done and a big discovery,” he says. “I love it because it has a very naïve quality, with a lot of humour and poetry and reverie. There’s a bit of kitsch in it. It’s very 18th-century with a slightly antique charm. It’s very French.”

Aside from Massenet, Pelly’s exploration of the nooks and crannies of French repertoire has become his signature in opera. He first directed here at the ENO with Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène in 2006. “It was a bit complicated because it was all done in English,” he recalls of a show which back in Paris had premiered in French. “The adaptation was a bit heavy.”

He has directed sundry other Offenbachs. His first heavyweight succès d’estime in this country was a Hänsel and Gretel in 2008 (revived last summer), which daringly invited Glyndebourne audiences to think about conspicuous consumption.

The Anglophilia that keeps bringing Pelly back he also gives vent to back at home. Among the productions he has put on at Théâtre National de Toulouse, where he has been artistic director since 2007, is Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads.

True to his instinct to furrow in the darker corners of the repertoire, the two Shakespeares he has staged in France are Love’s Labours Lost and, quixotically, King John. “It was very difficult. I don’t know why I chose to do it at Avignon in the Palais des Papes with live TV. Its politics seemed to me similar to the politics of today.”

Pelly’s first love was theatre. Growing up in Paris suburbs, he and his siblings were taken to see a lot of things from a very young age: “My parents were curious about the arts.” The indoctrination worked. His sister is an actress, his brother a photographer, while Pelly was designing from the age of 14.

“I formed a company , put on shows, stopped my classical studies at 18, and went on a drama course in Paris, where I met the majority of the actors with whom I’m still working.”

Until the age of 33, he also acted. As he lost one string to his bow, he gained another and began directing opera.

He had first seen an opera in his teens when he was taken to Lulu. “It made a big impression on me but was not love at first sight.” Even now he does no more than two operatic productions a year. For the rest of the time, he’s in Toulouse, where he took over after 14 years running a theatre in Grenoble.

His next visit to the Royal Opera House is Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable. “What interests me most is putting on works that aren’t at all well-known in France, rather than doing Carmen and Traviata.”