Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Wacky but Wonderful Cinderella at LA Opera

Review by Rodney Punt

Gioachino Rossini's Cinderella (aka ‘La Cenerentola’) nods to the rescue singspiels of the composer's beloved Mozart, where Enlightenment Good triumphs over Establishment Evil. But Catalan director Joan Font and his team downplay these proto-romantic leanings in favor of surreal farce. Opportunities for same certainly abound in Rossini’s witty, effervescent score. Joan Guillén’s rakish set and brightly colored costumes, along with Albert Faura’s extreme lighting, set the scene somewhere near Alice's Wonderland. Font compensates for occasional slow momentum in long arias with stage business ranging from charming to silly, working hard at times for its sugar highs. The ensuing action ends up more madcap daydream than miraculous rescue.

Cinderella differs in detail from the well-known Disney version. Rossini’s heroine is named Angelina. Exposed ankles being too risqué in that era, a bracelet set replaces slippers for the day after match-up. Forget the pumpkin carriage, fairy godmother and cute mice. The most sympathetic characters are six Kangaroo-sized rats that take a shine to Angelina and ere long also shamelessly mug for the audience. In an unexpected twist, this Cinderella wakes from her dream to once again sweep the floors. For all the divergences from the Magic Kingdom, no one could mistake this version for any other fable.

Billed as a co-production (its six-year journey had begun in Houston, with stops in Wales, Barcelona and Geneva), it looked more borrowed, with its sets stretched wider and deeper than comfortable on the theme park-sized Chandler stage. Only when a downstage Mylar screen appeared in the second act to support the voices could opening night singers provide vocal punch to the hall's distant reaches. This was especially hard on young Kate Lindsey in the title role.

Just thirty years of age, Lindsey is already a star attraction, if not yet a vocal power-hitter. On opening night her projection into the cavernous house was not as commanding as her more mature colleagues. But give her time; she is charismatic, lovely and lithesome, with a velvety voice as fresh as spring itself. Her Angelina charmed in both the plaintive “Una volta c’era un re” and the flourishing finale of “Non più mesta accanto al fuoco.”

Lindsey’s attractive visage in flowing light brown hair and white prom dress had adorned promo posters of Cinderella on the streets of Los Angeles. Alas, such a picture was never on stage, as the ball scene had her in a silvery-white beehive wig, as frightful as the get-ups of the rest of the off-kilter company.

René Barbera’s Don Ramiro (the so-called “handsome” prince) sounded heroic but looked suitably ridiculous in his pointy pompadour wig. His valet Dandini (Vito Priante, resembling the foppy persona of Sacha Baron Cohen) nearly stole the show when he exchanged his servant’s clothing with his master’s finery, then put on airs and made demands of his temporarily humbled master. Nicola Ulivieri’s Alidoro served admirably as the goofy male equivalent of a fairy godmother. Even the heavies were ultimately more wacky than menacing: Alessandro Corbelli as Angelina’s inexplicably cruel father, Don Magnifico; Stacy Tappan and Ronnita Nicole Miller as her high-handed, hoop-skirted sisters, Clorinda and Tisbe.

Conductor James Conlon and his orchestral charges enforced quicksilver tempi that underscored the fun and frothiness. They made the most of Rossini's famous accelerandi and his tingling instrumental combos, especially those of the flute, piccolo, oboe and clarinet. While vocal solos were for the most part firm, ensembles on opening night were often ragged. Reliable reports suggest the whole show tightened up as the run progressed.

Despite its oddities, this Cinderella was a worthy entry to the ever-growing Rossini canon at LA Opera. More of the composer's sparkling comedies and even the obscure dramas of his late career are returning to favor worldwide. They are becoming a company specialty in Los Angeles.


Cinderella (La Cenerentola) by Gioachino Rossini
LA Opera, March 23 - April 13, 2013
Performance reviewed: March 23, 2013
Photos of Robert Millard used by permission of LA Opera

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