Glass Slipper: A Q&A With the Stars of Knoxville Opera's 'Cinderella'

The work of the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini returns to the Knoxville Opera's 2013 Rossini Festival with a production of Cinderella (La Cenerentola) featuring mezzo-soprano Leah Wool as Cinderella and tenor Michael Dailey as the Prince.

Dailey, a native of Virginia Beach, Va., is making his first Knoxville Opera appearance, but previously performed the role of the Prince during his four years as a resident artist at Opera San Jose. During his final 2011-12 season there, he sang Beppe in Pagliacci, Alfredo in La Traviata, and the title role in Faust.

Wool, a native of Hewlett, N.Y., may be familiar to Knoxville audiences from her 2010 KO success as Rosina in The Barber of Seville. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2007 in Suor Angelica, also appearing in that season's War and Peace. This season, Wool sang the role of Angelina/Cinderella in the Nashville Opera production, as well as Rosinas for Sacramento Opera and Piedmont Opera.

Have you two ever worked together before?
Leah Wool: No. Wait—yes! We sang together at a benefit concert for the Napa Valley Youth Symphony. Michael Dailey: Yes, that was in 2009. Wool: I didn't remember at first because we were in a group of about 20 singers on stage for "Make Your Garden Grow." So, yes. But, this Knoxville Opera production of Cinderella is the first time in an actual production.

What has your 2012-13 season been like so far?
Wool: A lot of Rossini for me, which has been wonderful. I've done two Rosinas [in The Barber of Seville] and now, two Cinderellas. I did the role for Nashville Opera in January. Lucky me! Four Rossini productions in one year—it has been really nice. I love the repertoire. ... In total this will be my fifth Cinderella. Dailey: Wow, a veteran! I did a La Traviata, Faust, Die Fledermaus, and a small role in Maometto II, a rare Rossini work [at Santa Fe Opera] last summer.

This production of Cinderella is being sung in English. How do you feel about non-English language operas being sung in English?
Wool: I think for most of us the reaction is, "Oh, really? We're doing it in English?" Rossini's native language is Italian, and the opera really rolls off the tongue and is beautifully fluid in Italian. But this is a pretty good translation. And, what's really nice is that, through the course of rehearsal, if we find that a certain word or a certain vowel doesn't really work in a certain place, we have the flexibility to change it to suit our voices. In this production, everyone is so funny and spontaneous, there is still a sense of discovery involved in finding ways to make it our own. If we were doing it in Italian, we certainly wouldn't change the words. But in English, we can throw in more modern things that are more relatable and fun. Dailey: I agree. I actually found myself reading this translation and thinking, this really does work. A lot of the time, when a librettist does an English translation, they have a hard time getting the word-rhyming right, or they are focused so much on the rhyming that they miss the context. And sometimes with a comedy, the translation just isn't funny. But this is a very witty translation. [Knoxville Opera director] Brian Salesky has a great way of figuring out what works for us vocally, and he'll help us out as much as he can. Usually, you associate English translations with operetta, something like Die Fledermaus. Wool: Or Hansel and Gretel, standard things like that that get done all the time. Dailey: Or outreach productions, condensed versions for schools. But surprisingly, this translation really works.

What are the things about these roles that you find most attractive?
Wool: I love Rossini's Cinderella, but I've also sung Massenet's Cendrillon, which is much truer to the French fairy tale. There's a fairy godmother, there's a glass slipper—it has more of the magical elements that we're used to from the Disney-fied version of the story. Rossini's version is a little more naturalistic, or realistic, and I like that. ... As Rossini writes the character, she really is the soul of goodness, but she has an inner strength, a resolve, and a sense of self-worth. Obviously, her family treats her horribly, so she has to have a self-assurance. Dailey: Yes, Cinderella is the epitome of grace and forgiveness. But what I love about this story versus the fairy tale is—well, obviously you see a lot more of the Prince. Wool: The Prince is so much more fully drawn in Rossini. Dailey: But he decides to disguise himself as his valet so he can actually observe the women. He wants to marry for love. He wants someone who is going to love him for him, and not just because he is the Prince. He's looking for substance. Even though Cinderella's family treats her badly, she is still forgiving and merciful ... and the Prince finds himself better because of her. She teaches him something, and that's really nice.

CORRECTION: Leah Wool's hometown was incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this story. She is from Hewlett, N.Y., not Oceanside, N.Y.