I first encountered La Cenerentola in 1993, when, at 19, I was assigned to learn the part of Alidoro in the opening scene of the opera for the closing performance of the Bel Canto Northwest seminar at Portland State University. I was naïve and arrogant, convinced of the wisdom, sophistication and incontestability of my opinions (plus c'est la meme chose, plus ça change), and happy to share them with anyone patient enough not to smack me: I did not like Rossini.
No, I liked Wagner and Strauss. Bellini and Donizetti were growing on me, but Rossini…well, he was just cheesy. It all sounded the same, and I didn’t care for what I heard. Rossini was music for people who preferred sight-gags to twenty minute immolations and forty-five minute unconsummated love duets. As far as I could tell, he could do two things as a composer: repeat a phrase eight times with a crescendo (whoop-te-doo!) and close a finale with sol fa mi re, sol fa mi re, sol fa mi re do. Every time.
Nonetheless in my boundless wisdom I recognized that at my tender age, Wagner, Strauss, Verdi and Puccini would need to wait and in the meantime I’d have to content myself with appropriately juvenile music. Like Rossini.
Into every life – no matter how sophisticated – a little formaggio must fall, and so, despite my initial objections, as the rehearsals progressed I was shocked to discover, and loathe to admit, that I was having fun. Having gotten over my initial Rossinophobia, it wasn’t long before I began to morph into a genuine Rossinophile. I still love Wagner, but you can’t tap your toes to Siegfried (well...okay, I guess the Schmiedelied, sure), and as passionate as I am about Parsifal, “fun” isn’t the first adjective that leaps to mind, unlike with, say, L’Italiana in Algeri.
Rossini became a core component of my repertoire: I sang Raimbaud in Le Comte Ory during grad school and continued to study Cenerentola, moving from Alidoro to the perfectly suited Dandini (friends at Santa Fe called me “Andini”), as well as Guillaume Tell and, of course, The Barber of Seville. During my year in Zurich, Dandini and Figaro were constantly in my concert repertoire.
So it is with mixed feelings that I will attend tomorrow night’s performance of La Cenerentola at Portland Opera; I love this piece and look forward to hearing it, but I won’t be able to avoid wishing it were me up there. Two other coincidences of note conspire to make tomorrow interesting: the acting teacher and stage director from that 1993 seminar was a Juilliard faculty member named Christopher Mattaliano. He’s now the general director at Portland Opera and directed this production; he also directed me in my professional debut in 1999. I returned to PSU’s Bel Canto Northwest in 1998, where I met a delightful and incredibly promising young Portland mezzo named Angela Niederloh.
She’s singing the title role.