From Rossini’s La Cenerentola to Massenet’s Cendrillon, the Cinderella story has enjoyed a successful operatic life.
Opera in four acts
Arrangement for Ensemble by Giuseppe Montesano
Sung in English with surtitles
First performance: Staatsoper, Vienna, 2016
Other composers, including Nicholas Isouard and Pauline Viardot, have made their versions too. But it is safe to say that none was as young as Alma Deutscher, who was only eight when she started work on her opera in 2013. Completing the full-length opera by the age of 11, Deutscher surely qualifies for the ‘prodigy’ tag that is normally reserved for composers of the past.
Deutscher’s version of the famous fairy tale involves modifications of the plot, now revolving around music. But equally, her treatment of music has something of an enchanting child’s play about it. She sets it in an opera house inhabited by a crowd of creative people — Cinderella herself being a talented composer consigned to the drudgery of being a copyist. The Ugly Sisters — less talented, of course — are a couple of would-be divas. The Prince is a poet who is mocked at court for his artistic leanings, and after her midnight flight from the palace he seeks her out using not a slipper but one of her melodies as the identifying proof. They find each other ‘like lyrics find melody’. Even at such a young age, Deutscher has felt the need to defend her love of beautiful melody. ‘If the world is so ugly,’ she has said, ‘then what’s the point of making it even uglier with ugly music?’
Following an early try-out in Israel, Deutscher’s Cinderella received its premiere in Vienna in December 2016, conducted by Zubin Mehta, no less. The composer took part, presenting herself first as a violin virtuoso (Cinderella’s alter ego) and then accompanying from the piano. A year later, the work had its first American performance at Opera San José (a production also released on DVD by Sony).
Cinderella is Deutscher’s second opera (the first was a short work, The Sweeper of Dreams), and her catalogue, also including a piano concerto and violin concerto, already covers many genres. She is a name to watch — why not watch her in Wexford?
Once upon a time, there was an opera company … Unfortunately, it is run by Cinderella’s evil Stepmother, and dominated by Griselda and Zibaldona, two talentless would-be divas. Their stepsister Cinderella is not allowed to perform, but because she is a gifted composer she is put to hard work as a music copyist. Cinderella is captivated by a poem she discovers and sets it to music — only to have her tune, though not the poem, stolen by Grisleda and Zibaldona and performed at a singing competition. Eventually, at a ball, the Prince gets to hear Cinderella herself sing it and recognises the poem as his own. When she flees at midnight there is only one thing for him to do: he searches for her and — ‘like lyrics find a melody’ — they are united.