Deutscher Cinderella (DVD)
Vanessa Becerra, Jonas Hacker, Mary Dunleavy, Nathan Stark; Alma Deutscher (violin, piano, organ); Opera San José/Jane Glover; dir. Brad Dalton (San José, 2017)
Sony DVD: 19075895049; Blu-ray: 19075895059 157 mins (2 discs)
Alma Deutscher (b2005) completed Cinderella, her first full-length opera, before she was a teenager; the work premiered in Vienna in 2016. Deutscher, now 13, is a prodigious violinist, pianist and composer who has attracted international attention for her unusual talents – most recently, an hour-long BBC documentary surrounding the making of the Viennese Cinderella. The work was subsequently picked up by Opera San José: it is their performance at the California Theatre in San José – with embellished orchestration – that is presented here. In this engaging version of the fairytale, Cinderella’s father is manager of a ‘little opera house at the edge of town’ who, after the death of his wife, marries an ‘ageing prima donna’. When he dies, Cinderella’s stepmother takes over the opera house and turns Cinders (Vanessa Becerra) into a copyist slave: despite her skills, she is not allowed to write her own music and her compositions are confined to her mind (beautifully performed on violin and piano by Deutscher, off stage). The shoe-fitting scene is replaced with the prince asking potential brides to set one of his poems to music; Cinders’s stepsisters steal her work and present it at the singing competition as their own. Our heroine eventually sings her song to the prince, and the pair are united.
The work has potential for wide appeal as a children’s opera, and like Deutscher’s Violin Concerto (2015) is highly melodic in 18th- and 19th-century style. Quill-writing Cinders is dressed like a Disney peasant, in figure-hugging dresses with billowing sleeves. Most of the spoken text is delivered parlando, with some strong stage work from Mary Dunleavy as the stepmother. The lo-fi production values of the filming occasionally fail to capture the nuances on stage, although the Opera San José Orchestra, conducted by Jane Glover, are well represented.