Monday, April 10, 2017

Rossini's Cinderella

I had come to expect a certain style or a certain effect from the opera. But Arizona Opera's production of Cinderella (conducted by Dean Williamson and directed by Crystal Manich) this past weekend offered something a little different from what I had experienced before.

The music was noticeably different to the three other operas I have seen. The board chair, Robert S. Tancer, in his message for the program helpfully points out the musical term of coloratura, which I suppose must be the difference I noted. (Here is the oddity of a non-musical person trying to describe a musical experience.) In this opera, at least, it was what I would call "the sheep effect" (I don't mean to use this description rudely) of quickly changing notes layered together versus long sweeping notes--and this effect is probably what most people think of when they think of opera. But, to me, it feels less natural. Tancer also helpfully describes how coloratura went out of style before coming back in in the 1960's. 

Now, I have given the reason why I connected less with the music of this opera and why it didn't quite captivate me in the same way as the others. So let me move on to the rest of my commentary.

While I may not always have liked the style of the music, there was no doubt that the performers were all stellar. They not only brought the execution of the music but they also performed wholeheartedly. I once may have thought that opera was just singing; I have, of course, quickly found that it is also acting in the same sense that is any stage production (a play or a musical, for instance). These performers sing with emotion and also compose themselves and move around the stage fully as their characters. Interestingly, the page in the program that gives further info and analysis of Rossini's music explains that he "wrote abstract music"  that "carries beauty, but not emotion" and whose "meaning is not found in the notes on the page" but rather in the experience and through "performers endowing the melody with pathos." I wasn't musical enough to realize on my own that this is what was happening and this is what was intentional, but I did feel that difference between the music and the emotion of a scene and I did look with amazement on the performers. 

To continue with my earlier thought, the physical aspect of performance came in particular into Cinderella, since this is a comedy. Katrina Galka and Mariya Kaganskaya as Clorinda and Tisbe, Angelina's (Cinderella's) stepsisters, as well as Stefano de Peppo as their father, Don Magnifico, dove wholeheartedly into the comedy of their characters. This opera had many, many laughs.

And yet, for all the comedy and for the happy ending, this opera has a quite serious theme to it. It is slightly different a retelling of the Cinderella story, though of course it keeps the main elements. Most notably, of course, is the lack of magic, which serves to emphasize the real effects of acting based on Good thoughts. Angelina (Daniela Mack) is still the beautiful and long-suffering young woman who has been downtrodden by her stepparent (father instead of mother in this case). But here there is more made of class, and of the fact that both Angelina and her prince, Don Ramiro (Alek Shrader), must accept each other while believing that he/she is lower class. They both must pass a test, that is, a test where only goodness and virtue can win. There is nothing about the innate "royalness" that disguised upper class people display, which is so often the case in stories; rather, the emphasis remains on the acceptance of an individual for who an individual is through his/her actions.

That's quite a theme, and perhaps, in storytelling, one of the better versions of Cinderella that I have seen. I said that I didn't connect to this opera's music that much--but I did connect to the opera on a literary level.

Here I do have to add in that I'm not sure what was going on with the subtitles. They didn't seem to not be working. But they didn't translate enough. Granted, a couple of times it seemed that new translations stopped going up for the sake of simplicity when the lines were basically repeating the same concept. But there were whole sections with no translation at all, sections where it couldn't be a case of just avoiding repetition. Sometimes, yes, multiple characters are singing different lines at the same time, which is impossible to translate well on a thin screen. But there were also multiple characters singing or quick dialogue at Santa Fe Opera's Don Giovanni last year, and they did their best to keep the translations going; after all, sometimes you don't need to have the time to read every word, you just have to be able to glance at the translation to get the gist of it. After what I said about loving the story of Cinderella, you'll understand why it irked me to not have translations. I need to know what characters are saying. So if this was a stylistic choice, I did not like it.

Let me finish with one more positive comment. As usual, this production was visually beautiful. Costumes and sets always gave somewhere for my eyes to dwell. Since I mentioned Santa Fe Opera, I might as well throw in here that while I absolutely loved going there and they do have a beautiful outdoor stage and I would definitely go there again given the opportunity, I probably would miss the elaborate visual elements of Arizona Opera. It's quite something to have the curtain peel back and to peer into the window, to peer through at the stage and see a complete world right there before your eyes, all details in place and all action unfolding. 

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