From page to stage, the creation of a new opera often takes years. This is true of Alma Deutscher's first full-length opera Cinderella, so the fact that she has completed this ambitious project at the age of eleven is all the more remarkable. When she began to develop the project, she already had foundational compositional experience. The opportunity to present the opera in a chamber version in Hebrew (she's of British/Israeli/German heritage) in 2015 expedited progress. Early in 2016 she began revising the score, substantially in part, and then orchestrated it for small orchestra for its Vienna stage première (in German translation). The finished work runs just over two and half hours, and received extended enthusiastic applause.

Theresa Krügl (Cinderella) and Alma Deutscher © Rolf Bock
Theresa Krügl (Cinderella) and Alma Deutscher
© Rolf Bock

As for the story, Deutscher identifies with the fairytale Cinderella although her real life family is extraordinarily supportive; she's home-schooled, and has been able to nourish her musical interests fully. She's also gained the endorsement of Zubin Mehta. Still, young composers are often considered precocious and not taken seriously. As the growing number of interviews and videos of her discussing and/or performing her work amply show, she cares passionately about her work and displays joyful conviction in its realization. Her abilities in rehearsal are impressive, as is the ease with which she performs within her opera on violin and piano, and also sings in the opera's central ensemble number. She's found her métier for a while, without doubt.

The opera's libretto gained input from family and others, notably Elizabeth Adlington, who helped find dramaturgical solutions once the story had taken crucial autobiographical turns. Deutscher found the slipper business rather meaningless, and she fashioned Cinderalla as a budding composer whose Queen of the Night-like stepmother runs an opera house and abuses the young girl as an in-house copyist. The Prince's poetic leanings meanwhile make him an unlikely heir to the throne, but his father is ill (in comic fashion) and so he must marry. Adlington's suggestion of an old forest-dwelling woman with special powers helped develop the story so that a volume of the Prince's poetry would reach Cinderella's hands and inspire her musically before she knows the author's identity. Deutscher then linked the pair of lovers through mysterious, haunting music that Cinderella sings to the Prince just before disappearing at midnight.

Theresa Krügl (Cinderella) and Lorin Wey (Prince) © Rolf Bock
Theresa Krügl (Cinderella) and Lorin Wey (Prince)
© Rolf Bock

The ideal pairing of music and poetry is a prominent theme in Wagner's Die Meistersinger, which Deutscher's parents introduced to their daughter. Other traces of that opera include the song contest that is part of the masked ball, and the scenario whereby the minister accidentally leaves the king's prescription list in the hands of the step-mother. One step-daughter misinterprets it as a poem written by the prince, and renders it in awful fashion to her own guitar accompaniment, before singing it in the contest to Cinderella's music, stolen by her mother.

Musically, the Overture opens with shimmering violins à la Lohengrin, and Cinderella's nature owes much to Elsa and her music-filled dreams. The Singspiel framework of Deutscher's opera is musically realized so as to reveal easy command of German Romantic opera traditions for the lovers, and Italian comic opera and Mozart for the step-family and the world of the King. If further revisions of the dramatic material were to be made, the comic side could withstand some pruning.

Katrin Koch (Zibaldona), Catarina Coresi (Stepmother) and Anna Voshege (Griselda) © Rolf Bock
Katrin Koch (Zibaldona), Catarina Coresi (Stepmother) and Anna Voshege (Griselda)
© Rolf Bock

Cinderella and the Prince do not remain naïve imitations of misunderstood Romantic artists. By the third act, the drama is more self-aware and Deutscher's music takes on a more flexible and modern character. When the Prince argues that he will marry the woman whom he cannot identify or recognize, the audience giggled at his idealism, his repeated cries that he knows the melody of her soul sounding in a musical theater idiom. Of course he finds Cinderella, and as the forest-woman Emeline (resonantly sung by Veronika Dünser) appears resplendent, ready to marry them, it is the Stepmother and her daughters who remain outdated when they attempt to interrupt and are banished like the Queen of the Night and her crew at the end of Die Zauberflöte.

The success of this première owes much to the talented performers and production team. The minimal use of stage props on the Casino Baumgarten's small stage was complemented by excellent videos (Evelyn Fey) featuring the actual singers (and two actors) in appropriate, realistic settings. Dominik Am Zehnhoff-Söhns kept the action moving swiftly and inventively as needed, and shaped the contrasting dramatic worlds effectively, all well supported by the Oh!Opera orchestra led by Vinicius Kattah. As the lovers, Theresa Krügl and Lorin Wey were well cast and dramatically effective, and lyrically well matched. Catarina Coresi was a deliciously over-the-top and vocally penetrating Stepmother, alongside her daughters Anna Voshege (a nimble Griselda) and Katrin Koch (Zibaldona). Gregor Einspieler lent heft to the King, while his Minister Florian Stanek revealed wonderful stage presence and beautiful tone.