If a musical opened on Broadway and then spawned additional productions in Rome, Milan, London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Moscow, and Buenos Aires within a decade, it would be an international sensation, and its extraordinary popularity would most likely be attributed at least in part to the global communications infrastructure that allows for instantaneous sharing of so-called “viral” content. But what about a show that opens in Rome in 1817 and achieves exactly that level of international renown without the benefit of electricity, never mind the Internet?
This is what happened with Rossini’s Cinderella (Italian title: La Cenerentola). Buoyed by the success of the The Barber of Seville in 1816, Rossini and his librettist, Jacopo Ferretti, took the bones of the common fairy tale and created one of the greatest of all 19th-century operas, one particularly notable for providing a mezzo-soprano role of extraordinary depth and complexity that somehow manages to end happily for the heroine. When the Music Academy of the West (MAW) production reaches the Granada stage Thursday, July 30, and Saturday, August 1, Santa Barbara audiences will have a chance to thrill to the same dramatic and musical flourishes that triumphed around the world 200 years ago.
As with any performance of a monumental work of the classical repertoire, this production stands on the shoulders of those who have learned and performed it in the past. In the case of the MAW’s vocal program, those shoulders belong to the redoubtable Marilyn Horne, who, along with such other great divas as Pauline Viardot, Teresa Berganza, and Cecilia Bartoli, is remembered as one of the definitive Cinderellas of all time.
Beste Kalender, the second-year Music Academy fellow who will sing the lead role, described her relationship with Horne this way: “It’s been incredible for me to have her right here to answer all of my questions. The role is quite challenging, but the key to making it a success is to find a way not only to meet those challenges but also to enjoy it. Without a great mentor like Marilyn, it would have been so much harder to do that.”
For director David Paul, it’s Horne’s generosity with not just the lead but also the entire cast that makes her involvement so crucial. “When you have a work that includes two ensembles that run for more than 10 minutes, one of which is an 11-minute sextet, plus an ensemble finale, there is so much to learn for everyone,” said Paul. “With a young cast and all but one of them doing their role for the first time, it’s even harder. But Marilyn Horne works with all of them, and not only does she know this score really well because the role of Cenerentola was a calling card for her; she also understands the style. She has great depth of knowledge in this kind of opera, and she shares it.”
One of Rossini’s most interesting decisions — and one that this production will emphasize — was doing away with the magical elements that exist in some versions of the fairy tale. The carriage will not turn into a pumpkin at midnight, and Cinderella will not even be asked to try on a glass slipper. For Rossini, this was a way to strip out all the trappings of period comedy and lay bare the emotional issues at the heart of the story, and that’s how director Paul sees it, as well. “We’re trying to make these characters feel three dimensional,” he said, “and for us that means moving the time period up a bit, to the later 19th century so that we can get people out of wigs and corsets and into costumes that will be easier to relate to.”
For Beste Kalender, the thrill of this big night is in her character’s understandable desire to be part of the action. “This Cinderella doesn’t expect to be with the prince” she said, “but she knows she wants to go to the ball.”
Cinderella plays Thursday, July 30, 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, August 1, 2:30 p.m., at the Granada Theatre, 1214 State Street. For tickets and information, call 899-2222 or visit musicacademy.org.