Opera lovers, of course, dig the onstage action while the singers-players often strut their stuff enrobed in fancy threads amid eye-catching props.
But the new production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, which runs at the Opera House in Tel Aviv March 18 to April 2, should keep the members of the audience even more engrossed and transfixed than usual.
The opera, based on the rags-toriches tale of Cinderella, was first performed at Rome’s Teatro Valle on January 25, 1817. Two centuries on, French directors Cecile Roussat and Julien Lubek are infusing the work with new highly active and visual life. Considering the husband and wife duo’s professional background, that is hardly surprising. The two met on a program overseen by legendary mime artist Marcel Marceau.
Reimagining such a popular work can be something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the chances of filling the auditorium are good, so you are more or less guaranteed brisk tickets sales. Then again, you have to be a somewhat cautious not to offer the public something that is too far off the beaten track. Lubek says that tackling something like La Cenerentola is just plain old fun.
“Rossini and [librettist] Ferretti’s version of La Cenerentola is less a fairytale than a farce. But because of the stress they put on disguising things, the fact that the valet and the prince exchange their identities, which is not in the original tale, gives way to many situations in which someone takes something for what it is not,” he says.
The aforementioned characters will be played by American tenor Kenneth Tarver and Italian tenor Daniele Zanfarrdino as Prince Zamiro, while the quick-witted valet Dandini will be played by Chilean-born baritone Christian Senn and Italian counterpart Domenico Balzani. Mezzosopranos Analisa Stroppa from Italy and Israeli Naama Goldman have been cast in the title role.
Daniel Cohen and Ethan Schmeisser will split conducting duties during the run.
Roussat and Lubek were only too happy to go with the fun flow.
“Cecile and I actually really see the characters almost as commedia dell’arte characters, with Dandini the valet who likes the good life – good food and nice women – and he’s quite witty and mischievous.
And Don Magnifico [Cenerentola’s stepfather] is only greedy and looking for money. So there are well-determined characters and the situation – at the beginning we understand that everything is upside down – so it leads to a very funny [opera] and a play full of gags and energy,” he says.
The directors were also intent on retaining the original fantasy spirit of the storyline.
“Cecile and I also tried to pull the thread of magic through our staging because, after all, it is a fairytale. That’s what I think people want to see when they come to see La Cenerentola,” notes Lubek, although adding that some of regular Cinderella story elements did fall by the wayside. “There’s no fairy, there’s no ball and no glass slipper and all that.”
Roussat and Lubek’s propensity for physical high jinks lent itself seamlessly to the onstage action.
“We started from the fact that, musically speaking and in terms of libretto, everything is going faster and faster and round and round, and there are people chasing one another and people taking other people for who they are not and that sort of thing,” says Lubek.
That led the couple naturally to the cleverly designed scenery that will meet the audience’s eyes next week.
“We thought of staging a set that has this kind of magic to it, with trap doors and hidden passages, and the stage actually revolves all the time, so we go from surprise to surprise,” he says.
In my mind’s eye, I could imagine the people in the audience constantly shifting their gaze in an effort to keep up.
“Actually that’s an exercise we do with the singers which we call the ping pong exercise. It really is sometimes like a tennis match because one looks at another, and another looks at the audience, and the energy really flows continuously.
We direct the players like actors, like commedia dell’arte actors. The first days [of the rehearsals], we did games and exercises that we do with actors. Sometimes we bring masks too, to help the players understand how to work with them – to have the accuracy and energy of a masked character,” he explains.
While Roussat and Lubek clearly have a tendency to mold the work at hand to their professional ethos, Lubek says they never lose sight of the score.
“We are led a lot by the music. Cecile and I also come from a circus background and, of course. we had our time with Marcel Marceau. He was a great artist.”
At first glance, mime appears to be very different from opera. While the former is a soundless art form, the latter is anything but. Even so, Lubek sees a strong similarity between the two disciplines.
“I don’t think Cecile and I got to opera by chance. Mime is the essence of acting. It’s the basis of acting and action acting. And also because Cecile and I are trying to create performances in which the audience won’t say ’Oh, he’s a good tenor’ or ‘He’s a good trapeze performer.’ There’s an atmosphere, there are actors, and there are stories, but we don’t separate them. You can mix the arts like they did in the Baroque era, which is our favorite music and era, in which the arts were more mixed together. The character of a king was a dancer, and there was [Baroque era] ballet de cour [a precursor of 18th century opera-ballet] where everything was mixed – singing and acting and everything,” he says.
Sounds like the Opera House patrons are going to have an exciting time.
“It is our taste to have action on stage,” says Lubek with a touch of understatement. “Our biggest enemy is boredom.”
There doesn’t seem to be too much chance of anyone in the audience yawning too much.For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777 and www.israelopera.co.il