Friday, December 14, 2012

Director Joan Font on La Cenerentola

Seattle Opera is very happy to welcome Joan Font, Artistic Director of the Barcelona-based theater collective Comediants, who is now hard at work directing La Cenerentola in Seattle. Font's production of Rossini's charming fairy-tale opera first took the stage in 2007 in Houston, and has since delighted audiences in Cardiff, Barcelona, Geneva, Brussels, and Toronto. The production, like all Comediants' work, aims at creating a "theater of the senses": of colors, smells, and textures, yet also a theater that provokes. By juxtaposing the simplicity of myths or tales with the complexity of modern life, they aim to provoke optimism and rediscovery, to open people's eyes and let them see the world as a wonderful house of culture and friendship that must be cared for before it is too late. Mr. Font has graciously allowed us to post his introduction to La Cenerentola:

The basis for La Cenerentola is a tale by Charles Perrault in 1697. This tale has become a classic and tells a universal story, that of a girl who is mistreated by her own family and, thanks to a fairy's magic, can see her dream come true: being the love object of a prince who will take her out of her poverty and servitude and crown her as princess and queen. From this legendary tale, the musician Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) and the librettist Jacopo Ferretti created a delightful opera, La Cenerentola, which premiered at the Teatro Valle in Rome on the 25th of February 1817, when Rossini was just 25 years old. This opera does not respect the original tale with regard to Cenerentola's magical transformation helping her to alter her fate, but it does conserve the whole plot and social concept of the original. A ruined family with a stepfather (Don Magnifico), absolutely at the limit of reality and who is always recalling the past, a man without scruples, absurd, conceited and cruel but with outstanding strength, who lives for his two natural daughters, Clorinda and Tisbe, stupid characters who are only interested in escaping from their miserable lives by finding some aristocrat who wants to marry them... And within this decadent world lives Cenerentola, representing good manners, simplicity, truth and generosity. In this situation appears a key person called Alidoro (the character replacing the fairy in the original), a wise philosopher, advisor to Prince Ramiro who is looking for the best woman for him... And this is where the life of Angelina, La Cenerentola, starts to change. There is the fun idea of changing roles to discover the truth, as the valet Dandini and Prince Ramiro swap places. Here we can observe the hypocrisy and falseness associated with power.

From La Cenerentola: The (fake) prince arrives, in full pageantry, to escort the ladies to the ball

There is a mix of different themes in this delightful opera: the grey, sad reality of the characters' everyday lives at home; the opulence and magnificence of the "royals"; the clash of these two worlds colliding; the comic quality of these realities given their exaggerated nature, becoming grotesque and ironic; the romanticism, as love enters through the door of the true emotions and feelings between Prince Ramiro and La Cenerentola, and the dream struggling to come true.

We have wanted to take a new look at the dramatic narration of the tale and to accentuate the concept of timelessness. This isn't something that happened purely in the past: it is still valid today and is not the legacy of a single culture but of all humanity. We all dream of escaping poverty and misery, of living full and happy lives, and it's better if love brings about or acts as a catalyst for this change. But this love arrives from the outside as if by magic, and it's from another social class: the highest.

From La Cenerentola: During a lively Rossinian storm, the Prince's carriage overturns as he seeks the mysterious beauty who vanished after the ball

That's why the story is set in an empty, clean space and it's here where the transformations are experienced. In our interpretation of the work everything is a dream, the space is constantly changing and the transformation of each situation in the story is through light. Moreover, there is no specific architecture, not in a defined or temporal sense, but rather there's room for everything. Our aim has been to preserve the basic concept of the original tale as well as respecting the opera version, where Rossini's music adds a real dimension to the feelings, sensations and emotions of the work. This composer takes us along different paths: the comic path with characters and situations distorted from the "real" characters; the romantic path when there are love scenes between the couple, because this is a proper love with passion and desire and it's eager to be revealed; the clash of the characters' contradictory feelings and the conflictive narrative between the plot and the characters, creating different musical moments of great beauty and complexity. The characters are created under the gaze of a Mediterranean light with pure, highly exaggerated colours, a deformation that accentuates the personalities of each of the singers-actors and how they evolve within the tale. A constant metamorphosis occurs in this apparently simple and empty space and one that follows the plot since, in our interpretation, it's all a story imagined by the main character in order to escape from her dramatic situation. We enter a world of dreams-reality-fiction-imagination, combined in such a way that we're not sure where or when we are actually living. Spatial concepts appear within this empty world to bring the scenes to life, from the home of Don Magnifico to the palace, the gardens and the cellar, with the appearance of symbolic elements, essential for giving meaning to the dramatic evolution of the opera: the coaches, the tables laid with food, the throne, the costumes... and so each of the settings, situations and actions of this voyage gradually transmute, going from the particular true reality of the beginning to another new reality, of which we have always dreamed and which might be as real as the authentic reality. The aim of our staging is to show the indefinite nature of a reality that clashes with fantasy and that perhaps, when all is said and done, was only a dream like life itself... Because dreams are but dreams.

--Joan Font
Photos from the Comediants website

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