by John Stoehr
Rossini's La Cenerentola is truly a Cinderella story. She was pushing against history, not running with it. That's what it seemed like until we realized we were wrong. It's indeed a progressive opera. The ash girl is looking to the future.
When it was announced that Amistad would be the marquee opera to be staged at the renovated Memminger Auditorium in a year that marked the bicentennial of the end of international slave trade in North America, few eyes were on La Cenerentola. What was a little puff of rococo compared to the gravitas of American history and the egalitarian ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
Well, this puff of rococo has turned out to the belle of the ball. Amistad turned out to be too ambitious, too cerebral, and too complicated for staging in a black box theater that is the renovated Memminger. It had the added burden of being new and having to strive all that much harder to win over knowledgeable and intelligent audiences. La Cenerentola, on the other hand, had the imprimatur of time.
It wasn't a straight staging, however. While it had everything to win over conventional opera-goers (lots of opportunity to pour love and affection on favored characters and singers), La Cenerentola also had enough to surprise the unconventional, those (like me) who eventually tire of bel canto histrionics.
In other words, what’s striking is that the Spoleto production, directed by Charles Roubaud, looks back and looks forward at the same time. It looks back by being traditional its music. Even the singers are pretty traditional in that they didn’t have much sense of rhythm the night I saw La Cenerentola and there were trainwrecks between the opera's chorus and the orchestra. Maestro Matteo Beltrami did his best to pull it together, but it wasn't enough (though that hardly detracted from the audience's evident pleasure).
The production looks forward in its staging, especially video to complement the story. We’ve seen multimedia used in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, in Monkey: Journey to the West, and will see it used in the break/s, but these are all new. La Cenerentola, on the other hand, is an old workhorse.
That it’s getting multimedia treatment signals that the integration of moving image with stage performance has graduated beyond the level of novelty. It’s art now.