San Diego Opera's 'Cinderella' Is Darker But Still Charming
Don't expect Rossini's opera to be like the Disney cartoon
This is KPBS Mid Day Edition I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Cinderella is inspired by a story that is absent -- Actually thousands of years old. We looked into these fairytale groups and why they were made such powerful sources. She spoke with Joseph Thomas, director for the national Center for the study of women's literature . San Diego Opera is going to be presenting an opera of Cinderella, what do you want to tell audiences in terms of the kinds of expectations they should bring or not bring to a fairytale like this? Do not be disappointed if there is no glass slipper. I am not going to give anything away, but don't be disappointed. I think it is absolutely charming in every way, musically , and being that feel and atmosphere of the Midshipman-19th century in terms of his decorations and costumes. It is a slightly different telling of the story. There is something like 60 different versions of the story. There are many Cinderella stories. People may come to fairytales thinking fairytales are something simple, children's stories. There is a complexity to them. What does Cinderella and this Opera have in that respect? It is interesting people think fairytales are for children when historically they weren't. They were told to audiences of adults and children. It wasn't until the middle 1700s in Europe that we started thinking about fairytales as children's literature, even in the 1800s, like 1812 when the Graham's brother published their version . The name means tells for childhood households. You mentioned these were probably more brutal than a lot of people tend to remember. Specifically, was there anything in their version of Cinderella that people maybe have forgotten? When the prince is coming around to get the sisters to try on the shoe the sisters cannot fit their feet. The first sister blocks off her toes, the Princess for and goes off with his new bride until magic does show up and say look at her foot. At the end of the Graham's brothers version the sisters are attacked by those same doves and a peck their eyes out and they die blind and poor . What do you think it is about fairytales approves to be so enduring? They are the folk literature of many nations. Fairytales and forced dust Mac folktales are marked by simple characters and supple plus and that makes him endlessly adaptable. We hear a lot about how fairytales are timeless, but they are not really. If you look at a specific iteration you can look how uniquely it emerges. Tales are modified versions that allow different tellers to user stories for different purposes. So, the more we talk about the similarities between these different versions I think the more we miss out on the telling differences. Those differences are what tell us what is unique about a given culture. Because of the structure that you are talking about fairytales are easy to remember, so they are easy to retell. You mentioned the differences between the familiar tales, what is telling about the way they do shift sometimes from dark to light? You have the grams version which was dark and there we come up more recently with the Disney which was much lighter. If that also very telling in terms of where the stories tend to go lighter and darker? I think so. When the stories were being told to an audience of adults and children and when the historical moment was one where childhood didn't exist as a done -- As it does now, the idea was to get your children up to speed as quickly as possible. Or wasn't this long apprenticeship that we have today with childhood that keeps extending so that children are 20 years old and still children. As soon as they were able to work you wanted to get them out there and have them work and know what the world is. Those tales tend to be darker. As we begin to shift our ideas and think about fairytales as being literature for children they tend to get cleaned up. One other thing that is essential to at least the Cinderella fairytale is the notion of a transformation. The transformation takes place without magic. There is no fairy godmother, we have a kind of philosopher , teacher, older wiser gentlemen who was on the lookout for the perfect bride for the Prince. The fingers and the director, the conductor all have to bring off the comedy and the transformation of Cinderella using only human elements and every day elements at that. Yes he brings her a beautiful new dress, but that is kind of it. The transformation is interior . Cinderella is good, but goodness isn't enough. You have to have the philosopher show up and say, I like you, kid, put this on. Get to the ball. Remember, at the ball in the apparatus version she appears, takes off her veil and they all think they recognize her, but are not sure. Of course that kicks off the finale, extraordinary music and very funny, but perhaps they don't recognize her not just because of the dress, but her new inner strength and her resilience. And that comes from having nice new clothes. >> [ laughter ] There you go. In the 1600 Wendy's groups of aristocratic women were riding their first literary theory tells these are some of the oldest in Europe, one our the reasons they like stories like Cinderella is because these women were precluded from marrying men they wanted to marry. So often these were arranged marriages. These women retelling the stories were really interested in the idea that people might marry for love. They began putting in these trials to make the couples prove their love to each other and that was a radical gesture , even a feminist gesture. In the time period when they were first being published they were radical , these were women saying we should be able to marry the person we want to and we ought to be able to marry for love. Albright. Thank you very much. >>[ [ MUSIC ] [ Music ] [ MUSIC ] ] There are still performances of Cinderella tomorrow and a mandate on Sunday. For more information go to www.as www.astheopera.org. Be sure to watch KPBS evening August at 5 o'clock and at 6:30 PM tonight. Join us again tomorrow for more. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Take you for listening.
If you think of the Disney animated film any time someone mentions "Cinderella" then think again. The new San Diego Opera production of Rossini’s "Cinderella" is darker and more complex but just as charming.
"Cinderella" director Lindy Hume said, "Fairy tales are part of our DNA. We are hardwired to recognize those archetypes in these stories and we know those stories since we were children and we keep them in our lives forever."
Lauren McNeese sings the title role. She says it’s the ongoing human struggle that makes fairy tales so enduring.
"There is catharsis involved in that struggle and watching the hero or heroine make their way through the storyline, it’s the reason why we love Lord of the Rings we walk through it with those characters and then we can address it to our own lives," McNeese said.
People have been enjoying the Cinderella story for thousands of years. It can trace its origins back to the first century and a story about a Greek slave girl becoming an Egyptian queen. But what remains consistent is an archetypal simplicity.
"Fairy tales and folk tales are marked by very simple characters and usually very simple plots, which makes them endlessly adaptable," SDSU professor Joseph Thomas said. He is the director of the National Center for the Study of Children's Literature.
"They have a simple narrative so that you can plummet into some depth charges of the psyche because they actually mean something, they are all about, their function in our lives is a little bit of a lesson, a little bit of a roadmap through certain circumstances," Hume said.
That’s why Hume roots her "Cinderella" in a real world with portraits of real kings in the prince’s library. Her "Cinderella" also draws in part on Charles Perrault’s charming French variation of the fairy tale as well as the darker Brothers Grimm take. And in case you forgot just how dark those Grimm boys could get, here’s a reminder.
"When the prince comes around to get the sisters to try on the shoe, the sisters can’t fit their feet so the first sister loops off her toes to fit her foot into the shoe and the second sister cuts off her heel," professor Thomas said.
The opera doesn’t go that dark but it’s serious about the abuse Cinderella experiences.
"For instance in the act one quintet when you have the real abuse and see her hitting rock bottom then the aria at the end is that much more exciting and rewarding for everybody," McNeese said.
Hume added, "I tend to like my fairy tales fairly dark. But at the same time I like sitcom so I like to blend those two elements."
Rossini’s opera, unlike the Disney cartoon, arrives at its transformative ending without resorting at any supernatural elements.
"Rossini and his librettist Feretti assiduously avoided anything magical in the operatic version, which I find really interesting. There’s no fairy godmother, instead of a fairy godmother we have a kind of philosopher teacher, older wiser gentleman of the court who is on the lookout for the perfect bride for the prince," Nicolas Reveles said. He is the director of community engagement for San Diego Opera.
"The tales are modified versions of an architecture that allows different tellers to use the stories for different purposes," Thomas said.
Each interpretation of a fairy tale is uniquely suited to the time period from which it emerges. For Hume that meant showing the darkness before you get to the light.
"It’s all about goodness and the power of love and the power of goodness," Hume said. "I think these are dark times, these are difficult times in the world and I think when we as artists have an opportunity to simply present something beautiful to the world and to make people feel great as they leave the theater that’s what we aim to do and we an do that with this production. So enjoy it."
But please, she added, don’t come with a template of what you think Cinderella is. Instead, come with an open mind and enjoy the story as Rossini tells it and as Hume has chosen to interpret it for a 21st century audience.
The first performance of San Diego Opera’s "Cinderella" is this Saturday with three more performances through Oct. 30 at the Civic Theater downtown.