San Francisco Opera’s sparkling production of La Cenerentola (Cinderella) opened yesterday afternoon, bringing to the War Memorial Opera House Gioachino Rossini’s interpretation of one of the world’s best loved fairy tales – with four debut performances.
French mezzo-soprano Karine Deshayes appears with San Francisco Opera for the first time, in the title role of Angelina (Cinderella); American tenor René Barbera debuts with the Company as the prince, Don Ramiro; Spanish baritone Carlos Chausson sings the role of Angelina’s stepfather, Don Magnifico, in his first appearance with San Francisco Opera, and in a role debut, Mexican-American baritone Efraín Solís appears as the prince’s valet Dandini.
Gregory Fortner directs Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production, and the San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orchestra are led by renowned Spanish conductor Jesús López-Cobos.
The libretto for La Cenerentola was written by Italian writer, poet and opera librettist, Jacopo (Giacomo) Ferretti, and based on Charles Perrault’s fairy tale, Cendrillon. The opera, which was first performed in Rome’s Teatro Valle on January 25th, 1817, differs from Perrault’s traditional story, due, apparently, to Rossini’s concern about the ‘special effects’ necessary to portray the ‘magical’ elements in the tale.
Karine Deshayes joined the Opéra National de Lyon following her studies at the Paris Conservatoire, and then enjoyed a long-term collaboration with the Opéra National de Paris. Appearances at major French opera houses were followed by performances on the stages of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Liceu in Barcelona, the Opéra du Rhin, and the Metropolitan Opera, where she was praised by The New York Times for her “emotional depth and vibrant, beautiful sound”. Included in her wide repertoire are performances in the role of Angelina at the Opéra National de Paris, the Opéra National de Bordeaux, and at Opéra Grand Avignon. Ms Deshayes also performs in concert and recital, and was awarded the Charles Cros prize for a recording of music by Fauré in 2010, and named ‘Lyrical artist of the year’ at the annual French classical music awards – ‘Victoires de la Musique Classique’ – in 2011.
René Barbera is an alumnus of the 2008 Merola Opera Program. At Placido Domingo’s Operalia 2011 in Moscow, he was awarded First Prize for Opera, First Prize for Zarzuela, and the Audience Prize – the first sole recipient of all three awards since the competition began in 1993. He has sung the role of Don Ramiro in productions of La Cenerentola by the Los Angeles, Seattle and West Palm Beach opera companies – with Orange County Register referring to his performance as “Sensational”. Later this season he returns to Los Angeles Opera to sing the role of Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and will make another appearance with San Francisco Opera towards the end of the 2014-15 season, as Iopas in Berlioz’ Les Troyens.
Carlos Chausson is much in demand for his portrayal of buffo (Italian comic) roles, of which his best known include Doctor Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro, Don Alfonso in Cosí fan tutte, and the title role in Don Pasquale. He has appeared at major opera houses such as Vienna State Opera, the Liceu in Barcelona, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Deutsche Oper and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and has sung the role of Don Magnifico at Zurich Opera, Opéra de Paris, Teatro alla Scala and Madrid’s Teatro Real, as well as in Seville, Dresden, Bilbao and Nice.
Adler Fellow, Efraín Solís, made his debut with San Francisco Opera this past summer as Prince Yamadori in Madama Butterfly, and most recently as Christian in Un Ballo in Maschera. He returns to sing the role of Don Ramiro’s valet, Dandini, in this production of La Cenerentola. Mr Solis holds degrees from Chapman University and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he performed the title role in Don Giovanni, Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, and the title role in Gianni Schicchi. As a participant of the 2013 Merola Opera Program, he sang Junius in The Rape of Lucretia, and covered the role of Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro.
The roles of Angelina’s step-sisters are both sung by Adler Fellows – Latvian mezzo-soprano, Zanda Švēde, as Tisbe, and American soprano, Maria Valdes, as Clorinda. Both were participants in the 2013 Merola Opera Program, during which Ms Valdes sang the role of Susanna in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Ms Švēde made her professional debut as Flora in La Traviata for San Francisco Opera this past summer.
Jesús López-Cobos last appeared at San Francisco Opera for the 1974 production of Verdi’s Otello. He recently completed a seven-year tenure as Music Director of Teatro Real in Madrid, and presently holds the title of Conductor Emeritus of the Cincinnatti Symphony Orchestra – having served as the Orchestra’s Music Director from 1986 to 2001. He has also served as General Music Director of Deutsche Oper Berlin, and Music Director of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra.
Gregory Fortner makes his San Francisco Opera debut directing Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production of La Cenerentola, having previously directed this production at the New National Theater of Tokyo. His work has been seen throughout the United States, Brazil and Romania, and his award-winning production of Matei Visniec’s play Old Clown Wanted has been featured in international festivals in New York and Romania, and enjoyed long runs in both Chicago and New Jersey. Mr Fortner has directed La Bohème and Don Giovanni for Los Angeles Opera, Falstaff at the Aspen Music Festival, and is a member of the directing staff at the Metropolitan Opera.
La Cenerentola, sung in Italian with English supertitles, runs at the War Memorial Opera House until November 26th. All performances will be preceded by an informative Opera Talk by conductor, composer and educator Giancarlo Aquilanti. For tickets and further information, visit the San Francisco Opera website.