Rossini made writing opera seem so easy. He was just 24 when he wrote his greatest hit, The Barber of Seville, dashing it off within a couple of weeks. A year later, he created La Cenerentola (Cinderella) in the space of three weeks (although he did speed things up by recycling a few bits from his earlier works).
Rossini also makes listening to opera very easy – his music is wonderfully tuneful and infectious. But it is fiendishly difficult to sing, with acrobatic coloratura and rapid-fire patter that demand fearless singers with phenomenal vocal athleticism. A performance of Cinderella is a little like riding a roller coaster – part of the thrill is knowing the wheels could come off at the next hairpin turn!
Here are a few of the irresistible musical highlights from various productions of Cinderella.
Julie Boulianne will perform the role of Angelina in POV's fall 2010 production of Cinderella. You can see her in the same role in these scenes from Glimmerglass opera's 2009 summer production.
Directed by Kevin Newbury. Conducted by Joseph Colaneri. Featuring Julie Boulianne, John Tessier, Edward Chama, Keith Phares, and the Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra, 2009.
Prince Ramiro must take a wife, and in fine fairy tale tradition, he will make his choice at a grand ball. Ramiro and his valet Dandini arrive at the home of Don Magnifico to inspect the ladies of the house. They have switched roles; Ramiro pretends to be a valet, while Dandini glories in playing the role of the prince.
As the bogus prince, Dandini flirts outrageously with the stepsisters Clorinda and Tisbe, each of whom vies to be the chosen one.
As a bee on an April day flits lightly and playfully,
goes after the lily then jumps to the rose,
seeking a sweet flower for himself,
so I go round among the beautiful ladies and look them over.
Claudio Desderi as Dandini. Francisco Araiza as Don Ramiro. Paolo Montarsolo as Don Magnifico. Margherita Guglielmi as Clorinda. Laura Zannini as Tisbe. Claudio Abbado, Conductor. Staged and directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. Teatro Alla Scala,1981
As Don Magnifico and his two daughters prepare to leave for the ball, Angelina begs Don Magnifico to let her come too. He refuses, threatening her while assuring his visitors that she is just particularly pesky servant. Alidoro, the Prince's counsellor, arrives with a census register, announces that three eligible young ladies reside at Don Magnifico's house, and asks to see Magnifico's third daughter.
Magnifico claims she is dead. There is a pregnant silence, followed by chaos, as Magnifico threatens Angelina and she begs for help from the gentlemen, who try to calm everyone down. Finally all except Angelina head off for the ball.
This zany ensemble is one of the great delights of the opera, with lyric outpourings followed by tongue-twisting patter.
Signore, una parola
Sir, a word! Take me to the ball at the Prince's palace for an hour, just one hour!
Nel volto estatico
By the fascinated faces of one and the other,
you can see the turmoil in their minds
which waver and doubt, uncertain what to think.
Here are two versions of the scene.
Frederica Von Stade as Cenerentola. Claudio Desderi as Dandini. Francisco Araiza as Prince Ramiro. Paolo Montarsolo as Don Magnifico. Paul Plishka as Alidoro. Claudio Abbado, Conductor. Staged and directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. Teatro Alla Scala, 1981
The clip below, from Houston Grand Opera, begins with Nel volto estatico and is equivalent to the last 4 minutes of the La Scala clip above.
Cecilia Bartoli as Angelina. Enzo Dara as Don Magnifico. Alessandro Corbelli as Dandini. Raúl Gimenez as Prince Ramiro. Michele Pertusi as Alidoro. Houston Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Campanella, Conductor. Houston Grand Opera, 1996
As Angelina and the prince celebrate their wedding, she asks her husband to forgive her stepfather and stepsisters. She then goes on to sing that her life has been transformed.
I was born to sorrow and to tears ...
No longer shall I sit alone singing sadly by the fire
Ah, my long years of heartache
were but a streak of lightning, a dream, a game.
Sinfonieorchester des Norddeutschen Rundfunks, conductor Georges Prêtre. Hamburg, 1962
Some of Rossini's music is now part of popular culture. The Barber of Seville, for example, has been used in a number of cartoons, including Woody Woodpecker's famous manic rendition of "Largo al factotum".
Walter Lantz Productions, Universal Pictures, 1944.
Equally well known is the finale from the Overture to Rossini's opera Guillaume Tell. The William Tell Overture was adopted as the theme song for the long-running radio and television show The Lone Ranger.
The Lone Ranger originated as a radio series on WXYZ radio in Detroit in 1933 and ran for 2,956 episodes. It became a successful television series, running on ABC from 1949 to 1957.