La Cenerentola, San Francisco, June 2003
Juan Diego Florez and Mika Shigematsu
Photo by Ken Friedman

New lead revitalizes 'La Cenerentola', San Francisco Chronicle, 21 June 2003
Jolly Night at the Opera, Olivia Stapp, San Francisco Classical Voice, June 10, 2003 [external link]
Tenor has stunning S.F. Opera debut, Contra Costa Times, 10 June 2003
San Francisco Opera Presents Rossini's La cenerentola, San Diego Magazine, 8 June 2003 [external link]
Awaiting its Prince Charming, San Francisco Chronicle, 9 June 2003
Production Photographs
Tenor has stunning S.F. Opera debut
Georgia Rowe, Contra Costa Times, 10 June 2003

Judging by the applause at Saturday night's opening of "La Cenerentola" at
the War Memorial Opera House, one might have been tempted to think that
Gioacchino Rossini had written a new opera titled "Don Ramiro." The prince
in the San Francisco Opera's revival of Rossini's melodrama giocoso was so
charming, the entire production seemed to revolve around him.

This was both good news and bad news at Saturday's opening, which
represented the first of three productions the company will present this
month. It's possible that the two remaining productions -- Berlioz's "La
Damnation de Faust" (opening Tuesday) and Verdi's "Il Trovatore" (opening
Sunday) will be more innovative and better-balanced. But they won't have
Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez.

The good news is that Florez is a major talent. Making his S.F. Opera debut
as Don Ramiro -- the Prince Charming in Rossini's retelling of the
Cinderella fairy tale -- the 30-year-old tenor looked like an aristocrat,
acted with a winning blend of wit and intelligence, and sang with the kind
of brilliance and beauty that makes young singers into very big stars.

The bad news was that the company was unable to come up with someone equally
impressive in the title role. Florez was originally scheduled to be
partnered with Italian mezzo-soprano Sonia Ganassi, who withdrew from the
production due to illness. Mika Shigematsu was a less-than-satisfactory

"La Cenerentola," after all, is all about Cinderella, and no production of
the opera can fully succeed without a strong singer in the title role.
Shigematsu, who sings one additional performance on June 13 (Theodora
Hanslowe assumes the role June 19-July 6), had an especially rough start at
Saturday's opening. Her first entrance was marked by variable pitch and
tentative delivery, and her voice paled to the point of inaudibility in the
Act I ensembles.

Shigematsu gained in strength and assurance as the three-hour performance
progressed, but she never really sparkled as Angelina, the opera's
Cinderella. She often struggled with the score's difficult coloratura, and
her characterization was oddly unalluring; her stage movements ranged from
stiff and sluggish to downright ungainly.

Fortunately, the company surrounded Shigematsu with an outstanding
supporting cast. Most notable was German baritone Eike Wilm Schulte. Making
his S.F. Opera debut as the wise old tutor Alidoro, Schulte brought full,
rounded tone and elegant bearing to the assignment. His pivotal Act I aria,
"La del ciel," was one of the evening's high points.

Baritone Daniel Belcher was a sure-voiced, superbly comic Dandini, and bass
Kevin Glavin was an expansive Don Magnifico. As Angelina's venomous
stepsisters, soprano Saundra DeAthos (Clorinda) and mezzo-soprano Catherine
Cook (Tisbe) sang attractively and created characters that were clearly
distinct. The men of the S.F. Opera Chorus sang handsomely as courtiers and
friends of the prince.

Still, it was Florez who made the evening memorable. The tenor's vocal
agility, ardent phrasing and ineffably sweet tone made him an ideal prince.
Florez was graceful and energetic throughout, and by the time he tossed off
his Act II aria ("Si, ritrovarla, io guiro"), complete with its extended
volley of impossibly high C's, the audience was enchanted.

Jean-Pierre Ponelle's production is one of the company's tried-and-true
creations. First introduced in 1969 and previously revived in 1974, 1982 and
1995, it has aged well. Ponnelle's elaborate dollhouse set, well-defined by
Thomas J. Munn's lighting, effectively framed the action, which was kept in
constant motion by stage director Grischa Asagaroff.

The performers received luxuriant support from conductor Patrick Summers,
who clearly understands the need for flexibility in Rossini's buoyant bel
canto score. From the well-shaped Overture to the triumphant Finale, this
was a gorgeous sounding "Cenerentola."

Awaiting its Prince Charming -  Opera's 'Cenerentola' wallows in mediocrity
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, 9 June 2003

The San Francisco Opera's undistinguished revival of Rossini's "La
Cenerentola," which opened the company's summer season Saturday night, is
uncomfortably reminiscent of the kind of fare that used to be all too common
at the War Memorial Opera House a few years back.

Once again, we have a work from the standard repertoire inadequately cast,
indifferently staged and boasting just enough powerful moments to keep a
run- of-the-mill performance from running completely off the rails.

Will that suffice for a major-league opera company? I don't see how.

The opening performance, to be fair, improved steadily as the evening wore
on. By the time Rossini's bubbly treatment of the Cinderella story had drawn
to its happy conclusion, patrons still in their seats could congratulate
themselves at their foresight (or good luck) in not having fled the
first-act shambles.

But not even a strong finish could dispel the fog of mediocrity that
surrounded this performance for most of its three hours.

Chalk some of it up to malignant fate, which caused mezzo-soprano Sonia
Ganassi to fall ill a couple of weeks ago and cancel her eagerly awaited
return in the title role, following her superb 1999 company debut in
Donizetti's "La Favorite."

In her place, former Adler Fellow Mika Shigematsu turned in a wan,
undercharacterized performance for most of the evening, marked by dramatic
stiffness, recurrent pitch problems and a tendency to fade into inaudibility
in ensembles.

She emerged from the shadows in time to give a brightly focused account of
the final coloratura showpiece, "Non piu mesta," but that redemption was a
long time coming. (American mezzo-soprano Theodora Hanslowe takes over the
role on June 19.)

The biggest question mark going in was the company debut of Peruvian tenor
Juan Diego Florez as Don Ramiro, the Prince Charming character. Florez is
the latest in a growing string of tenors to have been acclaimed as the next
big thing, and he is undeniably a conscientious musical craftsman (and easy
on the eyes to boot).

But it's hard to explain the breathless accolades that have surrounded his
arrival except by reference to the opera world's chronic desperation for a
new tenor sensation.

Florez, on the evidence of Saturday's debut, is hardly that. His top notes
are sound, including a creditable high C, and his command of the role's
coloratura was impressive. But his tone is constricted and colorless, and
his performance was notably lacking in freedom or personality.

The evening's best performance was the company debut of baritone Eike Wilm
Schulte as Alidoro, the royal tutor who stands in for the fairy godmother.
His rendition of the first-act aria "La del ciel" was graced by an alluring
blend of resonant sound, rhythmic panache and theatrical flair.

As Tisbe, the younger of the two stepsisters, mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook
continued her seemingly endless streak as one of the company's great
underused treasures, combining forceful singing and sly comic charm into an
irresistible package. Adler Fellow Saundra DeAthos held her own as the
older, equally loathsome Clorinda.

In the two remaining roles, musical values were sacrificed wholesale to
comic zest -- a poor bargain in the scheme of things.

In his company debut as Don Magnifico (the evil stepfather), bass Kevin
Glavin talked his way through most of the role, sometimes deigning to sing a
phrase or two as written. Baritone Daniel Belcher, as the valet Dandini,
provided plenty of theatrical vivacity but not much voice.

On a good night, Patrick Summers is probably the finest Rossini conductor
around, but Saturday was not a good night. Rhythms were soggy, ensembles
spun out of control, and the spirit and sparkle of the score were rarely in
evidence. And Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's venerable 1969 production, restaged by
Grischa Asagaroff, can still charm here and there, but it looks increasingly
creaky as the years wear on.

New lead revitalizes 'La Cenerentola'
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, 21 June 2003

Rossini's "La Cenerentola" returned to the War Memorial Opera House on
Thursday night, looking and sounding considerably more enticing than it did
on its inauspicious opening night nearly two weeks ago.

The biggest development was the San Francisco Opera debut of American mezzo-
soprano Theodora Hanslowe in the title role, giving a performance marked by
equal helpings of vocal agility and theatrical verve.

But the opening-night kinks seem to have been ironed out across the board,
producing a performance with nearly all the comic zest and musical fireworks
that Rossini's operatic treatment of the Cinderella story requires.

Hanslowe, the second half of a tag-team replacement for the originally
scheduled Sonia Ganassi (former Adler Fellow Mika Shigematsu sang the first
two performances), certainly did her part to light up the proceedings.

Her voice, though a bit small-scale, moves easily between an alluringly
fluid, chocolaty legato and bright, glittery coloratura. She lent a touching
sense of melancholy to the opening "Una volta c'era un re," which was
answered nearly three hours later by a vibrant and wonderfully light-footed
account of the final bravura showpiece, "Non piu mesta."

To top it off, Hanslowe brought a welcome sense of theatrical vitality to
the role, a combination of spunk and emotional vulnerability that proved
immensely appealing. This Cinderella was no doormat, but a briskly engaged
and engaging figure.

The rest of the performance was a matter of taking the elements from opening
night and ratcheting the effectiveness of the whole undertaking up just a

Conductor Patrick Summers invested the evening with a full allotment of
rhythmic brio, and if some of the biggest ensembles ran briefly off the
rails now and then, the overall effect was still punchy and delightful.

As the prince, tenor Juan Diego Florez's ringing high notes and ardent good
looks continued to enchant the audience, and baritone Eike Wilm Schulte's
Alidoro sounded as warmly paternal as ever. Kevin Glavin's Don Magnifico and
Daniel Belcher's Dandini remained more notable for comic brilliance than
vocal strength, but both managed to improve that balance notably.


This page was last updated on: June 22, 2003