Her voice was rich, smooth and balanced, her technique rock-solid and every syllable clearly projected.

— Eric Haines, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

KHFM interview – September 26, 2009

with
Anthony Barrese – Music Director Opera Southwest
Deborah Domanski – Mezzo Soprano in La cenerentola
KHFM
KHFM: I’m Brent Stevens, my guests on New Mexico performs tonight are Deborah Domanski who’s singing the role of Cinderella in Opera Southwest’s upcoming production and Anthony Barrese, Music Director. Welcome.

D.D. & A.B.: Thank you.

KHFM: First of all Anthony, is there anything musically about this opera by Rossini, other than wonderful music that’s really interesting, or catchy, or fun.

A.B.: The thing I think that really separates this from Rossini’s other comic operas is that there is a level of excitement and tension kind of bubbling underneath. There are so many ensembles: there’s a quintet, there’s a sextet, there are numerous duets and quartets, there’s a lot of ensemble singing, and the way that he uses the voices in this opera particularly, you have a kind of underlying orchestral texture that generates a lot of tension, and on top of that you have voices doing even more crazy stuff. So with something like the Barber of Seville, there are more set pieces, more arias, and there’s much more ensemble singing in Cenerentola. I think that gives you more options to weave things together and get interesting results.

KHFM: At what point in his career did Rossini write this?

A.B.: He was about 24 when he got the contract to write it, and he finished it before he turned 25. So he was quite young, but this was like the heyday of when he was really really big in Naples, in Venice, he had already conquered Rome, and he was about to conquer Rome more thoroughly with this. The year before he had done the Barber of Seville but this was really going to solidify his Roman reputation.

KHFM: Deborah Domanski is singing Cinderella. Tell us, what are some of the challenges for you in this?

D.D.: Well, like he said, there’s a lot of ensemble singing in it, and Cinderella’s on stage a lot. And her final aria, her only aria, is at the very very very very end. It is the finale. And to sing the entire opera and save enough for your big number is probably one of the most challenging parts.

KHFM: Cinderella’s number from the very end of Rossini’s opera. Deborah Domanski, you were saying that Rossini presented a challenge because he waits all the way until the end of the opera to give you a number like that.

D.D.: But Rossini was very kind, because most of her music lies very easy in the voice: a nice tessitura, there’s lots of coloratura, which is the fast music that my father calls it the “ha ha has”. I told him I was doing this opera, and he said “oh, yeah Rossini. He’s the ‘ha ha ha ha’ guy.” Exactly dad. So there’s lots of that in the ensembles and there’s lots of textures where different solo voices come out in the bubbling of the other voices doing staccato, short rhythmic gestures. So to have those sorts of lines come out foreshadows various arias and musical themes throughout the piece.

KHFM: And the singing, are there a lot of words to get out in this piece?

A.B.: There are a lot of really tricky tongue-twister sections, and they go at a breakneck pace. And they have to be super clear, and everybody’s singing them at the same time. Sometimes you have everybody singing them at the same time. Sometimes you have people saying them in different rhythms, but whatever it is, it’s like this motor that’s underneath everything, and it’s got to be razor sharp and precise. And there are some real tough tongue-twisters in this.

KHFM: Music from Rossini’s Cinderella, La Cenerentola. That cast included Cecila Bartoli, William Matteuzzi, Alessandro Corbelli, and Enzo Dara, the Opera Southwest production coming to the Kimo theater Saturday October 3rd, Friday October 9th, and Sunday October 11th includes Deborah Domanski as Cinderella, Andrew Drost as Don Ramiro, and Stephen Eisenhard as Don Magnifico.

A.B.: Yes, and Stephen Hartley as Dandini, Moira Kelly as Clorinda, Andrea Kiesling as Tisbe, and Ashraf Sewialam as Alidoro.

KHFM: So tell me. This is quite a role, and how do you get into this character and keep it as light as you need to considering there are some tragic underpinnings in this role.

D.D.: It’s true, she’s really an ancient character. There are traces of this story way back in history. Around 500 B.C. is the first time that they’ve found the story of a young woman, who is very poor, who gets brought up through the ranks, and who marries out of her caste, so to speak. And you see this story in very different cultures, in different languages, and it’s still one of our favorite stories today. So she has this ancient wisdom about her, and in this opera, it’s really focused on the triumph of goodness, and the whole moral of the story is: everyone has a great heart, and let’s bring that forward. She forgives her evil stepsisters and her stepfather. And the truth behind the story is he squandered her inheritance, and spent it on his real daughters, and left her to wear rags and sit by the fire, and be their servant. But I don’t think in this production, Cinderella really knows that truth, because he reveals it in the beginning of the second act, when Cinderella’s not in the room, obviously. And so I don’t know that she actually knows the story of her own life because she goes through this whole little ramble where she’s trying to tell the prince, whom she doesn’t know is really the prince at this point, how she got to be who she is, and who her parents are, etc. She doesn’t know. She keeps tripping over her tongue and she says, “my father isn’t really my father, and my mother was a widow, and my sisters are kind of my sisters, but not really…” She just doesn’t know. So this sweet girl, she really loves this family. This is her famiglia, in the true Italian sense of the family. She really loves and adores them, and I think enjoys serving them, and taking care of them. They’re obviously ungrateful, but she takes it like water off a duck’s back. She has this love of life.

KHFM: Because she’s pure of heart.

D.D.: Yes. And innocenza is repeated very often in this opera. So at the end, her goodness and innocence prevail over anything else. And in the end the prince forgives her stepfather, and her stepsisters give in and say “look, we love you too.” I don’t know if it’s that they just want a part of the royal family, or if they really want to be friends, but that is the reality of it. So there is some tragedy behind it, but I don’t see Cinderella as wallowing in it at all. She has this sweet little song that she sings about a Prince who has three women that he could possibly marry, and who does he chosse? He chooses the innocent and good sister.

KHFM: So is this based on the Perrault fairy tale?

A.B.: It’s kind of strange, at that time in Italy, I think there were three or four other Cinderella-based operas that Rossini’s librettist took bits and pieces from. And the one thing that he was very adamant about, the librettist, Jacopo Ferretti, was that we are going to remove the supernatural element from it. That is, there are no pumpkins, there’s no fairy godmother, there’s kind of a fairy-godfather-esque character, Alidoro, but even he is basically Don Ramiro’s teacher. He keeps referring to Don Ramiro as his student. So they’ve completely removed the supernatural element from it, so in that sense no, it’s not based on that. It’s more of a humanizing story. But in this production we’ve put back a little bit of magic because the fairy godfather (Alidoro) does take an almost supernatural interest in the way the story’s being told, and you can see him orchestrating the events as they go.

KHFM: Is there a ball? Is there a glass slipper?

A.B.: There is a ball.

D.D.: There is a ball, there is no glass slipper, BUT! We have these phenomenal, custom designed and made bracelets by Native American artist Michael Roanhorse, that have been donated to the opera, and they’re actually going up for auction as a fundraiser for the opera. And they exchange bracelets at the ball.

KHFM: The prince and Cinderella.

D.D.: The prince and Cinderella. He says “well, how will I ever find you?” She has matching bracelets on either wrist. And she says “here, take one of these and look for me.” He’s like, “well why can’t I just hang out with you now?” She says, “no no no,” because she’s wearing this ball gown – this is not her normal life. She says “if & when you come find me, and you see me in my real attire, if you still love me, then let’s get married.” And so he takes one of the bracelets and she goes back to the house, and before even dawn hits, he’s at the house. He finds her almost immediately. I think that might’ve been Alidoro’s little magic intervention there…

A.B.: And I think it’s great that you mention that. It’s really important that Ramiro loves her as her, and not as this gorgeous ball-gowned woman, and on the same token, from the beginning of the opera Don Ramiro, he and his valet Dandini have switched costumes because he wants to find a woman to love him for who he is, and not because he’s the prince. So while his valet Dandini is going around pretending to be the prince, and just being a real pompous jerk, he’s kind of really humble, and he’s initially very much rejected by the stepsisters. They say he has un’anima plebea, he has a very plebean soul, he’s cheap, he’s lower class, they don’t want him. So he and Cenerentola both fall in love with each other when the prince seems very poor to her. So it is really this kind of idea of goodness and innocence triumphing over everything else.

KHFM: We’re listening to excerpt’s from Rossini’s Cinderella which will be performed by Opera Southwest October 3, 9, 11 at the Kimo theater. Tickets available at 243 0591 or at ticketmaster.com.

Anthony Barrese, is this an opera that’s good for families?

A.B.: Absolutely. There’s nothing even remotely unwholesome in this production. And we do encourage families to come and see this very family oriented show.

KHFM: Being so light, it’s probably a great first opera for somebody to see.

A.B.: I would think so. Musically events change at a very rapid pace and I think it’s enough to keep even a very young audience member engaged.

KHFM: Deborah Domanski, let me ask you a little bit about your career. You got a degree from the Manhattan School of music, and New Mexico’s been pretty good to you.

D.D.: Absolutely. Yes. After Manhattan School of Music, I spent 3 years at Juilliard in their young artist program, called the Juilliard Opera Center, then I was with the Pittsburgh Opera Center for 2 years. My first real job was at Tulsa opera as Cherubino, and then I started working with OSW, and Santa Fe Opera. I was an apprentice at Santa Fe Opera in 2005 and 2006. And then last summer was a major triumph for me. I was covering a role…

KHFM: In Handel’s Radamisto.

D.D.: In Handel’s Radamisto. Which is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Which makes this opera kind of a piece of cake after having done that.

[general laughter].

A.B.: I’ll remember that!

D.D.: [laughs] Well, Cinderella doesn’t have 6 arias. And in Radamisto the role of Zenobia, who I took over for, has 6 arias, and it’s just a marathon.

KHFM: Yeah, you were supposed to be covering the role and then you were stepping into it and doing the whole run. Right?

D.D.: Exactly. To rave reviews.

KHFM: You had quite a success. You’ve sung before with Opera Southwest.

D.D.: Yes. I’ve done 3 seasons with them now. I started with Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro in 2007. And then we did Fledermaus last season in 2008. And now we’re doing this.

A.B.: Deb is the singer I’ve worked with more than any other singer in the business. This is our third production together. It’s actually the first time she’s been playing a woman.

KHFM: How does that feel to be able to wear the gown?

D.D.: Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ve never worn a dress like this before. It’s so interesting. They have this thing called a panniers. This huge hoop. You know how women in the late 1700s, 18th century wore these dresses that made their hips look blossoming. And it’s very heavy, and it changes the way the body breathes and moves. It’s very interesting. So yesterday we did a gala performance for some of the patrons, and it was a very different experience because I’ve never sung in a dress like this before. Especially not this aria… and this is a very challenging aria. I would say this is one of the most challenging arias in the mezzo repertoire.

KHFM: And I’m thinking, the narrow staircases at the Kimo. Are you dressing backstage or are you coming up the stairs in that thing?

D.D.: I will be dressing backstage and turning sideways to get through the halls.

KHFM: So, you’ve worked with Deborah Domanski on 3 productions now. How would you say your relationship with her artistically has grown?

A.B.: I think it’s grown quite a bit. I remember the first time she sang with us, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, you had to arrive a couple of days late. And we have a very short rehearsal period. So I’m thinking “oh man, who is this diva that she has to come late?”

D.D.: [laughs] I was having my American Symphony debut, by the way.

A.B.: Yes, and I didn’t know this at all, and I’m thinking “what is this going to be like?” And she came, and she knocked out the role beautifully and amazingly, and it was just really, and I thought “great. This is what I want.” Because with that production of Figaro, even though we had a very small amount of rehearsal time, I really encouraged the singers to experiment with their roles, and to even improvise their vocal lines, like they would’ve done in the time of Mozart. And nobody took that to heart more than Deb Domanski, and even to some extent with Fledermaus last year she did this, and is really doing it with Cenerentola. So Deborah is more than just a singer. She’s a musician, she’s an artist, she delves into the role, she knows what all the words mean. She has a real intellectual curiosity that I rarely see these days. Especially with having a kind of spontaneity with wanting to experiment with shaping the music in different ways. Because like she said, there’s a lot of coloratura, and in the time of Rossini, people would’ve improvised ways of doing it. And she’s very aggressive in coming to it with a real inventiveness, that as a conductor, I really appreciate.

D.D.: It’s fun to be inventive, because in rehearsal we do it so many different times. You rehearse a scene over and over, and it’s like “ooh, I want to try it this way. I want to experiment with this.” And you can do it musically and dramatically. And bless David Bartholomew (the director’s) heart. He lets me play a lot. At one point I said to him, “what do you think of a Carol Burnett spin on Cenerentola? With the mop cap?” and he was like, “well, we could work with that. Let’s see how it develops.”

A.B.: And I think that having done these 3 shows with her, the first time I said, “I really want you to experiment.” And she did. And it was a limitation on my part, that she was doing so much and I couldn’t keep up with her, and I remember there was this one spot where I just said, “I need you to look at me there, because I can’t follow you.” And in Fledermaus there was even less of this, and when we got to the first rehearsals of Cenerentola I thought “well, I kind of know how she’s thinking now. I kind of know where this is going to go.” So I feel much more connected to her in a musical sense which makes everything much easier, and it makes me more relaxed, and I hope it makes her more relaxed, and it makes it more able for us to make music. And it’s really an exciting collaboration for me.

KFHM: Now would you like Anthony to leave the room so you can tell me what you think of him?

D.D.: [laughs] No, I was just going to thank him and say what a fantastic opportunity it is to work and develop our relationship because he is an incredible musician and he allows the space for that experimentation, but also within the framework of some very specific rules, that allow for even more freedom, if that makes sense. He has a very clear way of conducting that makes it so much easier, and so much more comfortable for the singers to have that freedom. And this is a truly wonderful group; the entire cast is brilliant.

A.B.: This cast is exceptional.

KFHM: It’s a shame that there seems to be such a tension between you two. I hope you can overcome that by the time the production opens.

[laughter]

KHFM: Anthony Barrese is the Music Director of Opera Southwest, and Deborah Domanski is playing Cinderella in the production of Rossini’s La cenerentola, Saturday October 3rd 7:30 P.M. Friday the 9th 7:30 P.M., and Sunday [October 11th ] 2:00 P.M. at the Kimo theater. Tickets: 243 0591 or online at ticketmaser.com
Deborah Domanski and Anthony Barrese thank you very much.

D.D. & A.B.: Thank you.

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