As I was walking to a rehearsal of La Cenerentola with my CUSU Shadow, she told me that her brother couldn’t understand why she’d want to join me in watching some snobby opera, but by the end of the night she was the one talking to the cast and asking them questions about the show.
Like the CUSU Shadowing Scheme, director Maddy Trepanier has one main aim: to encourage people to experience something new, something they never thought would be for them.
Maddy, along with musical director Luke Fitzgerald, have clearly kept this in mind throughout the process. The show itself, La Cenerentola, is composer Rossini’s retelling of the absolutely classic Cinderella, but in a way that is much more fun and lighter than other operas.
The pair said that ‘even the people writing this opera weren’t taking it seriously and neither do we’, and everyone I talk to compares both the drama and the scale of this production to a pantomime; there’s a huge number of people, both singing on stage and playing in the orchestra, and the story is familiar, but reframed in a way to ‘serve a dramatic evening of entertainment’.
Their concept too, steers away from the original 17th century staging of palace life. In the Churchill rehearsal room, I’m made to imagine the world of 1950s Italy (think Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, as Maddy describes it): there are music stands in place of shuttered doors and windows, and a drum the size of a Fiat 500 which I’m supposed to imagine is a fountain.
Maddy and Luke’s version of this opera also has more women. Rossini’s original production had a chorus solely of male courtiers, but we can expect to see people from all walks of life – there is promise of nuns in habits – on the West Road stage.
And it’s also a big change from most operas, where we see brutal and tragic violence against the female protagonist; here (hopefully no spoilers here) Cinderella comes out victorious, and saves herself with her own goodness – the original subtitle of the opera was ‘The Triumph of Virtue’.
Of course there is one giant obstacle that steers most people away from opera; that is, the language barrier for anyone that can’t speak Italian, in the case of La Cenerentola.
But what I discovered is that it’s an equally huge challenge for the cast themselves. Cinderella herself, played by Chloë Allison, says that it’s extremely difficult to perform in a language that isn’t your first, and that most of the cast is ‘playing English translations in the back of [their] mind’, as well as singing, and moving, and being as expressive as possible.
The audience gets a much easier time of it, watching the show alongside English surtitles (with a new translation provided by current MML student Adi Levin). Maddy also hopes that opera as a genre doesn’t deter people, and she points out that it’s just music that’s ‘designed to be fun to listen to. As far as opera can be pop music this is where we’re at’.
In one night I’ve been blown away by the vision and talent of these people, and I also learn a lot about opera; and everyone in that room seems to be at different points on a learning curve, be it musically or linguistically, but they all seem to have so much fun with it.
For Maddy and Luke, it’s important that this is a judgement-free experience, and recommend that if you’re new to the opera world it’s actually better to look up the plot or listen to some of the music beforehand, and that there is no shame in it at all. And me? I’ll be sitting there, with absolutely no knowledge of Italian, just excited to enjoy some good music by some phenomenally talented people.
La Cenerentola is on from Thursday 20th February to Saturday 22nd February at West Road Concert Hall. Tickets are available here: https://www.adcticketing.com/whats-on/opera/la-cenerentola/