John Bender is professor of English and comparative literature at Stanford University. He has reviewed the San Francisco Opera for Opera Canada for several years.
Articles by this Author
The Daughter of the Regiment (La Fille du Régiment) by Gaetano Donizetti is about singing as a direct route to the hearts both of characters and audiences. The opera’s apparent naiveté and, at times, blatant absurdity belie its perfection. In it the mature master composer of some 52 prior operas hides his own virtuosity in order allow his singers to reveal truth of feeling.
Opera audiences the world over live under the dominion of stage directors and dramaturges who relocate classic works to places and times remote from the originals and even rewrite major plot events. Such attempts at innovation too often reveal more about the creative desperation of their authors than their cleverness.
Mythological absurdities, deadly rivalries, and over-the-top emotion — topped by the 20-minute death throes of oversize sopranos — are familiar opera cliches. But these cliches often ignore the bubbling stream of comedy that flows through the works of Mozart, Rossini, and Donizetti, and even those of Wagner, Verdi, Massenet, and Puccini.
Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola is a brilliant comic opera filled with both melancholy and satire. La Cenerentola is also a fairy-tale girl who bursts into the spotlight. And for San Francisco right now, Daniela Mack has become the Cinderella girl with the glass slippers. Never mind that when Rossini modernized Charles Perrault’s old version for his libretto, those slippers became matching bracelets. Mack, the vocal princess, is pure sparkle.