OPERA SCENE – “La Cenerentola”

DEPRIVED GIRL FINDS HER PRINCE

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The classic fairy tale of “Cinderella” is best known from a 1950 Disney film and the many children’s books relating the tale of a servant girl who finds her Prince Charming. However, the tale goes back further to a published story in 1697 by Charles Perrault with the translated title of “Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper.”

There have been many variations including the Brothers Grimm with their version in 1812. Not too long afterwards the successful young opera composer, Gioachino Rossini undertook presenting the fairy tale in the opera “La Cenerentola,” another variation of the girl’s name. The premier was at Rome’s Teatro Valle in 1817.

Despite the popularity of his recent opera, “The Barber of Seville,” this new production received some hostility. It soon became popular throughout Italy and beyond when it reached Lisbon in 1819, London in 1820 and New York in 1826.

Regardless of the popularity of Rossini’s music, “La Cenerentola” is not in today’s standard repertory. In the earlier two centuries there were more coloratura contraltos for which the role was originally written. Today Cinderella is usually cast as a mezzo-soprano. It’s one of the few opera roles where the mezzo is the heroine not the villain. Still there have not been many mezzos who have included this role in their repertory. One of the best known in recent times was Frederica von Stade (Flicka) who performed last season in San Diego in “Great Scott.”

The Rossini opera has several variations from the familiar fairytale, such as the stepfather being the villain accompanied by his two frivolous daughters. There is no fairy godmother who creates a carriage and horses out of a pumpkin and household mice. Cinderella gets to the palace ball on her own ingenuity. The Prince and his valet switch roles to conceal his identity while wooing Cinderella.

Rossini opted not to have the glass slipper as the identifying object for Prince Charming to find the evasive Cinderella. Instead the mysterious guest at the ball gives the Prince one of a pair of matching bracelets while she wore the other.

Other than the character changes, the libretto is familiar by casting the young girl merely as a servant in the household attending to the bid and call of her two stepsisters and abusive demands from the stepfather.
Typical of the 25-year-old Rossini, the opera was written in record time – 24 days. A new opera by the composer was commissioned for a specific opening date, but the papal censor rejected the subject of the libretto. The librettist, the impresario and Rossini were at odds for a substitute until the Cinderella subject came up. Rossini challenged the librettist to have some sketches by the next morning, and they took off.

The finished product is a fast-paced score of patter arias and buffo ensembles that define Rossini’s unique style for the bel canto era in opera.
Cinderella is sung by American mezzo-soprano Lauren McNeese in her SDO debut after performing at Chicago Lyric Opera, Dallas Opera and other regional companies. Her Prince, Don Ramiro, is American tenor David Portillo in his company debut with credits from performances at the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Salzburg Festival and other U.S. and European companies.

The mean step-father, Don Magnifico, is sung by Italian basso Stefano de Peppo in his SDO debut. His specialty are the buffo roles in Italian opera like Don Pasquale, Leporello and Gianni Schicchi.

The elaborate stage settings and costumes depicting London during the Edwardian era are from Leipzig Opera. Conductor Gary Wedow is making his San Diego Opera debut after several engagements by Seattle Opera and other regional companies and as a member of the Juilliard School faculty. Lindy Hume is the stage director who conceived this production for Opera Queensland in Australia and is making her San Diego Opera debut.

“La Cenerentola” is sung in Italian with English subtitles above the stage. Performances are scheduled at 7 PM for Saturday, October 22, Tuesday, October 25 and Friday, October 28; and at 2 PM on Sunday, October 30. . For ticket information, call (619) 533 7000 or visit http://www.sdopera.com.

Ford is a past president of San Diego Opera and supports the opera archive at San Diego State University.