Beyond the fairy tale: Music Academy’s summer opera is the delightful ‘Cinderella’

"I'm living my own fairy tale!" says mezzo-soprano Beste Kalender about her role as the lead in Rossini's "Cinderella." David Bazemore photos
“I’m living my own fairy tale!” says mezzo-soprano Beste Kalender about her role as the lead in Rossini’s “Cinderella.”
David Bazemore photos

Composer Gioachino Rossini didn’t have a lot of time for stage magic. Unlike Mozart, he didn’t have time for transformations, or animals, divine messengers or the like. So it’s odd that he took on the fairiest of fairy tales in “Cinderella,” with its glass slippers and Prince Charming and all the trappings of the princess story. Rossini’s “Cinderella” (aka “La Cenerentola”) eschews fantasy for the reality of court intrigue between an impoverished maid and a prince.

David Paul is directing this Music Academy of the West production opening Thursday, and that means opera fans are in good hands regarding this material. Mr. Paul brought the Old Spanish Days-themed version of “Carmen” to the Granada last summer, and beyond trappings of the Californio costumes there was a serious rethink. Don Jose was no longer a tragic hero, but an abusive, ultimately murderous boyfriend. Rossini’s more realistic Cinderella is very much suited to Paul’s modern taste.

 Christopher Yoon is Prince Ramiro, who will give Cinderella a bracelet instead of a glass slipper in this version of the story.

Christopher Yoon is Prince Ramiro, who will give Cinderella a bracelet instead of a glass slipper in this version of the story.
In Rossini’s version, Cinderella is the impoverished stepdaughter of Don Magnifico (César Torruella), there are still two obnoxious step-sisters (Adanya Dunn and Deanna Pauletto), but Prince Ramiro (Christopher Yoon) hides his identity through his valet, and instead of fairy godmother, there is the Prince’s wise tutor Alidoro (Michael Hewitt), who helps bring the couple together. And instead of a glass slipper, there is a bracelet.

Mezzo-soprano Beste Kalender, of Turkish descent and Toronto address, sings the title role. She was here last year as part of the chorus of “Carmen,” but as Mr. Paul laughs, “it became a running joke that every time she came out on stage we’d have to make her look less glamorous, because everybody in the audience kept thinking she was Carmen! I was certainly intrigued by her and she is a leading lady in her own right.”

The Music Academy’s voice program director Marilyn Horne thought so too and so put Ms. Kalender on the track to move into the lead.

It’s easy to see why, too. In interview Ms. Kalender is vivacious, bursting with energy, and sounds like she’s just found her own Prince Charming.

“I’m living my own fairy tale!” she says. “In our profession it’s a lot of hard word and luck.”

Perhaps this was a role she was born to play. It was love at first sight when she met her husband and she admits to having a Cinderella-themed wedding, replete with a ceremony next to a lake, where she arrived in a swan-shaped boat.

“I had the typical ball gown and tiara,” she laughs. “I really wanted to play the (opera) role, but I didn’t know if I ever would get the chance, so I did it at my wedding.”

Despite this practice, Mr. Paul told Ms. Kalender that he didn’t want the usual princess interpretation.

“Cinderella should be a real person on stage,” says Ms. Kalender. “Not just naive and innocent, but someone who has her anger and disappointment, but also joy. This is someone the audience can relate to. This is Cinderella’s first love, and when that happens you go blind. I think audiences will remember their first love when they see it.”

“The biggest choice for us approaching this production,” says Mr. Paul. “Is that on one hand you do have the fairy tale and expectations from the audience, but we are living in an era where a woman meeting a man and that’s the only thing she’s wanted in her life, that’s not something people relate to.

So there is some magic that helps her get to her destination, but in the end the family needs to forgive each other. It becomes a family drama for a while near the end, every body is a bit wrong in some ways and they need to get over themselves. One of Cinderella’s best lines is near the end of the opera:

“And as my revenge on them, I’m going to forgive them.”

Rossini’s Opera “Cinderella”
Where: The Granada Theatre, 1214 State St.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 2:30 p.m. Saturday, August 1
Cost: $10-$80
Information: (805) 969-8787, www.musicacademy.org

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