La Cenerentola / Metropolitan Opera 5-10-14

I have yet to attend one of Joyce DiDonato’s concerts or opera performances and not spend some portion of the program with a big stupid grin on my face. It took a while to get to the grin in this case, but it happened by the end.

I had never seen this opera before or heard it the whole way through – there are bits of it, like Cenerentola’s last aria, “Nacqui all’affanno e al pianto . . non più mesta” that are recital staples and which I have heard before, but that’s about it. It’s a bit different from the Cinderella story most of us read as as small children. There’s no fairy godmother or wicked stepmother. Rather, Cenerentola lives with her stepfather and his daughters, and her trip to the ball comes because an angel witnesses her kind-hearted nature and decides to cut her a break. There’s no time limit, no magic carriage, and no glass slipper. Rather, C and her prince have a pair of matching bracelets. Which I will admit is rather sweet. And it’s not the failure of the stepsisters to get their big feet into C’s missing Jimmy Choo that nixes their chances: it’s that they’re obviously not very nice people. In addition, Cenerentola falls for the prince when he is disguised as his own valet (long story) and the story makes clear that she loves him because he’s a nice guy, not because he’s a prince.

There are bits of this that seemed rather strange to me – a ball, or at least a dinner party, where only Cenerentola’s stepfamily and the prince and his valet and advisor are present. It presents plenty of opportunities for buffoonery, as does the focus on the stepfather’s meatheaded social climbing. Buffa is definitely the word for this in general. There are a series of those Rossini “oh my god this is so confusing my head is spinning!” scenes/ensembles at various points in the opera, and the thing is 1. it isn’t – we all know what is going on and 2. this opera comments on how crazy! its own story is often enough that you just want the libretto to give it a rest.

The music gives the singers plenty of opportunities to strut their stuff. Juan Diego Florez as the prince was pretty much what I remembered from hearing him in L’Elisir d’Amore a few years ago. He’s funny and audience-friendly and a virtuoso bel canto singer – the prince’s aria post-ball where he swears to go and find Cenerentola involves one long held high note towards the end and resulted in applause sufficient that he had to return and take another bow. It was one of those odd moments where I wasn’t sure what I was applauding, in the sense that it’s not music that’s intended to move you deeply, so it’s not like all the cheering was because the singing wrung anyone’s heart out. Do people who know all the technical nuts and bolts of singing have a special appreciation for this kind of thing, in the sense that the music presents a certain set of technical challenges just to get it to come out right, and the appreciation lies primarily in how well the performer navigates all the twists and turns of it with style and comes out on top at the end? If so, fair enough, but I feel weird loudly applauding primarily for the gymnastics.

If I am going to hear Joyce DiDonato in a bel canto opera, I think I honestly prefer things like Maria Stuarda. The title character in Cenerentola doesn’t actually get to do all that much, musically or dramatically. She has some personality in the beginning, when she’s singing her sad song while cleaning and keeps singing it to annoy her step sisters (the song has some nice lowish-lying parts that are fun to hear), but mainly things just happen to her and she’s nice. It’s not all that interesting. I mean, even Mary Stuart gets to be angry, act self-righteous, start an argument or two and stew in her own juices for a while – she’s got something to sing about. Cenerentola, not as much. As a result, DiDonato doesn’t have the opportunities for drama that make her singing generally so interesting. But she was in typical form for Cenerentola’s last big number – this part was utter fun to hear and there wasn’t a note out of place (earlier on, there were a few moments where I had misgivings about the intonation – it might be a result of me not knowing the score and thus not hearing it right, or it might not have been).

Oh, and to the fellow audience member whose phone began to ring right as Cenerentola was singing about how what she would like is some respect? I bet you were so embarrassed! You should have been. SHUT YOUR DAMN PHONE OFF, YOU DOOFUS.

7 thoughts on “La Cenerentola / Metropolitan Opera 5-10-14

  1. If you’ll pardon the extended baseball metaphor, things like Cenerentola are akin to a home run derby at the All Star Game, whereas Maria Stuarda is more like a Yankees vs Red Sox game late in the playoffs. So yes, JDF goes yard, and the crowd goes wild, and he gets to tip the hat, and that’s what it’s all about.

    As for why the crowd goes wild: mad skillz, yes, but I think it also has to do with his being an integral part of the resurrection of a genre. It wasn’t so long ago that a season involving Sonnambula, Cenerentola and Puritani would have been unthinkable (let alone closing with two of them on the same day) because we didn’t have singers — tenors especially — who really could manage the technical challenges.

    I know I keep saying this, I feel like some kind of anti-Cassandra who keeps grabbing people by the lapels and saying “No, really, listen, this is the best, most awesome time and it is vitally important that we appreciate it for what it is because it could all go away again!” At least I haven’t taken to doing this in Lincoln Center Plaza. But you all can tell me to hold my noise any time 🙂

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    1. Might be fun to do that in Lincoln Center Plaza, especially if it involved brightly colored signs 🙂 But this is true, the context makes a difference. My memory of opera-going goes back only to about 2001 or so (DVDs of older things aside) so it’s easy to forget that a lot of what seems normal to me would just not have happened ten or twenty years before.

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      1. It’s also, apparently, human nature to focus on whinging about whatever isn’t stellar at any given moment. “There are no true Verdi sopranos today” etc. Actually I do think there’s a real threat to the bigger voice types. With the way fees are being cut and younger singers being used as cheap labour by the opera biz I really wonder how many will stick around long enough to fully develop the voice. I don’t think the business can survive if people are expected to live on $20-$30k/year.

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        1. The economics of the enterprise are certainly changing, and yet the pool of talent seems so much larger and opportunities to perform seem (to me, anyway) to have multiplied. On the other hand, you may well have a point about bigger voice types, bc those opportunities tend to be in smaller, more experimental venues with repertoire that is not Aida.

          On the other other hand, Jessye Norman is giving a master class at Glimmerglass this year. Shall we all go and see who turns up?

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          1. The “pool of talent” in the sense of the number of trained singers has certainly increased. There’s a never ending stream coming out of the universities. The number of performance opportunities may have increased too but not, I think, the ones that pay decently. They have diminished. The bottom line is a talented singer can probably scrape by for a few years on the scraps that are available. The very talented and very lucky can make a decent to very good living singing on major stages. What’s getting squeezed out is the “journeyman” singer who is increasingly being replaced by aspiring youngsters who will take fees one can’t feed a family on.

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            1. Well, yes, that’s the model of the new new economy, where experience costs you your job. They took a page from the hospital management playbook on that one.

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