Charles Affron, Mirella Jona Affron: Publications

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cinderella Come Lately

La Cenerentola crowned the Met’s 2013-14 season. Joyce DiDonato offered the last Angelinas of her career, first, with the relatively unknown, sensational tenor Javier Camarena, then with the also sensational Juan Diego Flórez. DiDonato joined the roster of virtuosic Cinderellas the Met has presented since the opera’s company premiere in 1997, Bartoli, Borodina, and Garanča, squired by a host of charming tenor princes, Vargas, Banks, and Brownlee. The score breathed with health and spirit under Fabio Luisi’s baton. The semi-surrealist concept, with its Magritte-men, remains persuasive.

Rossini’s opera buffa came to the U.S.A. in 1825 with the first troupe of singers to perform opera in Italian in New York. Promoted by Mozart librettist and Columbia professor Lorenzo Da Ponte, Manuel Garcia, who had himself been Almaviva in the Rome world premiere of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, assembled a company that featured his teen-aged daughter, Maria, soon to become famous in her own right as Maria Malibran. In 1934, London heard La Cenerentola with Conchita Supervia, another in the still advancing line of Spanish and Latin-American singers at home in its roulades. When it became a hit at City Opera in 1953, it was reputed to be the score’s first New York exposure since the days of Garcia. Veteran conductor Tullio Serafin returned to the city after two decades to lead a cast headed by the company’s ranking mezzo, Frances Bible. Alas, I have not been able to find phonographic evidence of Bible’s dexterity in this music. At the same time, a movie, based on the work, filmed in a delectable rococo palace, featuring the voice of redoubtable Verdian Fedora Barbieri, made the rounds of art cinemas.

The better-late-than-never Met premiere was meant to showcase the talents of Cecilia Bartoli. Five subsequent revivals and a total of thirty-eight performances add up to the most consistent success of any opera introduced at Lincoln Center since 1997. If the Met had gotten around to it a bit earlier, audiences might have enjoyed the heart-warming Angelinas of Victoria de los Angeles and Frederica von Stade. The excursions of de los Angeles into Rossini territory are documented in two complete recordings of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. In New York, her affinity for bel canto was demonstrated in a mere four performances of Rosina. More’s the pity. The roundness of her timbre, the evenness of her fioriture (listen to those descending runs), the clarity of her diction, and the glow of her personality are captured in this recording of “Nacqui all’affanno.”

Here is the wonderful von Stade in an excerpt from a film of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s La Scala production.

To top off this post, I’d like you to listen to a singer known to too few. Zara Dolukhanova was a prodigious Rossinian, active primarily in the 1950s and 1960s, who occasionally sang outside the Soviet Union. Her credentials as a belcantist are manifest in this 1950 Russian-language recording of Angelina’s final aria. You will probably be startled, and no doubt amused to hear “No, no, no, no,” come out as “Nyet, nyet, nyet, nyet,” and you will certainly be astonished by the polished vocalism. Note: there is an altered ending that turns the aria into a duet with the tenor.

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