My Year of Opera: 4 – La Cenerentola

I was hoping to watch Wozzeck Saturday night for this week’s entry but it will have to wait. I had started watching La Cenerentola with my 7 year old daughter and we had only gotten through one act before it was her bed time. When Daria heard that I was going to watch an opera on Saturday night, she said she wanted to finish La Cenerentola. I think we can all agree that Wozzeck isn’t exactly “kid friendly.” I’m going to watch that this week.

This production is the famous Cecilia Bartoli one with the Houston Grand Opera. I’ve only seen one other Rossini opera, Barber of Seville, which I saw live with the Kentucky Opera back when I was a grad student. This opera was new for me since I hadn’t seen or heard any of it before (other than the overture and the big final aria that I didn’t know was in this opera until I recognized the tune).

Many of you know that Romanticism doesn’t work for me. It just doesn’t hit me in the soft spot that it hits everyone else. This opera appeals much more to my classicist sensibilities. I like “number operas” more than I like verismo. Don’t know what my reaction will be when I turn on some later Verdi at some point this year but you can guess it might not be pretty.

There is a lot to enjoy about La Cenerentola and my desire to write a full-length music drama/opera continues to grow. This opera was a great example of “who needs a plot, let’s show off some singers!” That takes the pressure off of my own work. Story is only mildly more important to opera as it is to porn. I can’t believe I just said that, but there it is. I can’t be the only one who has expressed that sentiment, of course.

I also understand why this opera isn’t done more often. You need to serious vocal talent to pull this off! This probably isn’t going to show up on many undergrad opera performances because, while the orchestra part is just a bunch of “boom-chicks,” the vocal flexibility required is rather striking. That is one thing I really enjoyed about this opera: Rossini isn’t pretending to be something that he isn’t. The man wasn’t interested in writing a Serious Opera that Makes You Think About the Human Condition. This guy was a wealth of good tunes that made the vocalists sound like creatures with inhuman musical powers.

Knowing the voice is capable of such flexibility should set my pencils ablaze but in some ways it does the opposite. My own musical style tends to be devoid of filigree. I’m not a composer that ornaments the structure, I usually just lay the structure bare. This might make my future music dramas LESS approachable because I’m not writing the meaty virtuosic parts that singers might want.

The better way of looking at it is a challenge: how would I make a more ornamented and athletic vocal line in my musical language?

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