26 MAY 2012
© Sam H. Shirakawa
Große Stiefschwester/1. Elfe
Kleine Stiefschwester/2. Elfe
|The Brothers Grimm: Sévag Tachdjian, Yong Doo Park (Photo: Mathias Baus)|
Ermanno Wolf-Ferarri’s (1876-1948) first opera (Aschenputtel - Cenerentola - Cinderella) flopped when it opened at La Fenice in Venice on 22 February 1912. But both the composer and his work have survived and prevailed -- Wolf-Ferrari because he went on to create more than a dozen stage works as well as numerous other compositions; Aschenputtel because Wolf-Ferrari and his librettist M. Pezza-Pascollato smartly condensed the Brothers’ Grimm version of the well-known story into a compact and (mostly) charming children’s opera that theaters everywhere produce regularly.
The Cologne Opera is currently presenting Aschenputtel in a freely adapated version that runs about an hour. I caught it this past Saturday morning, surrounded by more than 100 kids under age ten and their parents. Their rapt attention throughout is a compliment to both the strong cast and Brigitta Gillesen's neat direction, which became all the more effective because the cast had to make some fast adjustments when the Prince Charming cancelled on short notice. Staff member Zarah Ritter knew only the blocking, so she mimicked the Prince on stage, while the speaking and singing parts were delivered from the orchestra loft above the stage by a tenor -- Philipp Werner -- hastily pressed into service.
Werner was remarkable, not only because he appeared to know the part, but because he synchronized his cues accurately despite his distance from the stage, thanks in part to sage musical direction by Raimund Laufen.
The other noteworthy standout in the cast was Ji-Hyun An, a captivating Cinderella. She is more attractive than even her publicity stills suggest, and she sounds a bit like Adriana Caselotti (the original soundtrack Snow White). Unfortunate that Wolf-Ferrari neglected to give the role an extended set piece like “Naqui afano... Non piu mesta...” An’s voice needs to be heard in a more challenging framework.
|Ji-Hyun An (Photo: Mathias Baus)|
Sandra Jahnke, Gloria Rehm and Rachel Bate multi-tasked nicely as the step-mother, her daughters from an earlier marriage and the three elves who send Cinderella to the ball appropriately attired.
Werner Sindemann (the King), Charlie Kedmenec (the Fool), Yong Doo Park (Jakob Grimm), and Sévag Tachdjian (Wilhelm Grimm) gamely rounded out the cast.
Laufen led members of the Gürzenich Orchestra in a lively reading of Wolf-Ferrari’s formative score.
AFTERWORD: The stories the Brothers Grimm collected are classified as safe reading for children, but it's no secret that most of them contain dark messages. The Cinderella plot, especially in the adaptation by Wolf-Ferrari/Pezza-Pascolato, is no exception. Quite apart from fleshing out the much-discussed Prince Charming Syndrome (somebody/something other than you will save you), the opera also contains a queasy passage in which the step-sisters have mutilated their feet in order to make them fit into the golden slipper. The audience full of children -- especially the girls -- became stone-still as the step-sisters tried desperately to jam their bloodied feet into the slipper. How many of those kids -- boys as well as girls -- are going to grow up determined to do whatever it takes to make their feet "fit?"
Thinking back, Cinderella clubbed mine.
Labels: Adriana Caselotti, Aschenputtel, Brigitta Gillessen, Cenerentola, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrar, Ji-Hyun An, Oper Köln Cologne Opera, Philipp Werner, Raimund Laufen