S.F. Opera revives sparkling ‘Cenerentola’

COURTESY PHOTOKarine Deshayes

Comedy, romance, and some of Rossini's bubbliest music combine potently in “Cenerentola” (“Cinderella”) onstage at San Francisco Opera this month.

The 1826 opera treats the ancient European folk tale differently from most versions in books, ballet, opera, musicals and film, in which Cinderella and her prince meet happily at the end after a masquerade ball and chase. Rossini’s opera has its roots in the 1697 Charles Perrault version of the story – not the more recent Grimm Brothers story, and certainly not the Disney classic from 1950.

In the San Francisco Opera production at the War Memorial, the prince (tenor René Barbera) finds and falls in love with Cinderella (French mezzo Karine Deshayes in her local debut), at the beginning, although she mistakes him for his servant (baritone Efrain Solis) – all the better to prove a pure heart and pure love. Instead of a mean stepmother, Rossini has an awful stepfather ( baritone Carlos Chausson). And in the opera, there’s no fairy godmother, but rather a wondrous magician Alidoro (bass-baritone Christian Van Horn) with special powers.

And the object used to find Cinderella is not a glass slipper, but a bracelet.

There are two nasty, gold-digging, status-seeking stepsisters, played by soprano Varia Valdes and mezzo Zanda Švede, from the company's Merola/Adler training programs.

This presentation is the fifth revival of the historic 1969 San Francisco Opera premiere of the work (it also has been staged in Europe's major opera houses as well as in Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Ottawa) and the late Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's U.S. debut as director and designer.

After 45 years, and, presumably, many coats of paint, Ponnelle's phantasmagorical castle is the set’s showcase. Be sure to take binoculars to see the bizarre gargoyles in all their hoary glory.

Returning to The City after 40 years, Spanish maestro Jesus López-Cobo (who conducted the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in 1972 and “Otello” in 1974), is the production’s music director. Stage director Gregory Fortner makes his company debut.

The San Francisco Opera Chorus, led by Ian Robertson, sings up a storm.

IF YOU GO

Cenerentola

Presented by San Francisco Opera

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 2 p.m. Nov. 9 and Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13, Nov. 18, Nov. 21 and Nov. 26

Tickets: $25 to $370

Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

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