Toledo Opera’s 2023/2024 season, titled Hope, Heart, and Humanity, kicks off with its first ever production of Rossini’s Cinderella, La Cenerentola in Italian, with guest conductor Michelle Rofrano Oct. 6 and Oct. 8.
This is Rofrano’s first time conducting one of her favorite operas by Rossini and working with Toledo Opera. During her first week in rehearsal, Rofrano talked with Toledo City Paper about why she loves this opera, how it differs from the traditional Brothers Grimm fairy tale and what it’s like to be a female conductor in a field that’s long been male dominated.
La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo (Cinderella, Goodness Triumphant)
Cinderella was composed by Gioachino Rossini when he was just 25 years old. It was the first opera he wrote after composing his highly successful The Barber of Seville just one year prior. Its first performance took place in Rome in January, 1817. Librettist Jacapo Ferretti wrote the story in an evening despite having his libretto for The Barber of Seville rejected by Rossini. Cinderella, however, proved to be as successful, if not more, than The Barber of Seville.
Rofrano came to Toledo Opera through a roster of singers working under the same representative who suggested her for the job when Toledo Opera was looking to fill the role of conductor for this opera.
“I love Italian operatic rep and have been wanting to conduct more of it,” Rofrano said.
Rofrano is one of a growing number of female conductors working today.
“Women conductors are underrepresented in classical music in general, and even less so in opera,” Rofrano said. “Currently there are more women conductors for hire. The Metropolitan Opera had three women as guest conductors last season.”
Conducting isn’t just what happens on stage during the show, it’s a collaboration with musicians, singers and the director to create a vision of an opera through musical choices as well as sets and action on stage. The first thing Rofrano does is to go through the score in sections, or scenes.
“I’ll play through it, sing, translate it and get a feel for the story,” she said. “I go through a variety of ways to emphasize the music. There’s no one way to do a piece of music — parts can be faster or slower. In this style of opera called Bel Canto, there are a lot of flourishes in the voice, (fast runs called cadenzas) which in pop music are like the singing styles of Ariana Grande or Whitney Huston. When I come to work with singers in person, I hear their voices and we decide on styles that work well with their strengths as singers. The beauty of a live show is finding out how to make this opera the very best it can be with this group, and it’s an original performance that will never be created again.”
A Variation on a Classic Story
Bel Canto was the predominant style of opera in the 18th and early 19th centuries, literally translated, it means “beautiful voice.”
“Rossini is known for his very fast patter (speak singing) and exciting scenes with big ensembles on stage that lead to a dramatic climax,” Rofrano said.
While Cinderella is romantic, it’s also a comedy, which is just one of the ways Rossini slightly alters the original story. Gone is the evil stepmother in favor of an evil stepfather and stepsisters from which most of the comedy arises. Cinderella’s stepfamily behaves in ridiculous ways to win favor from the prince because they’re poor.
Another refreshing change is the emphasis on the prince searching for a “good person” to marry rather than a beautiful one. In Rossini’s Cinderella the humor and happy ending are what classify this as a comic opera.
“What really resonates with me about this opera is that it doesn’t focus on gender or external beauty, it says be yourself, be a good person and good things will happen for you,” Rofrano said. “It’s my favorite version of Cinderella.”
To purchase tickets or for more information, visit toledoopera.org.