Cinderella, LA Opera

Written by:
Karen Weinstein
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‘Cinderella’ (La Cenerentola)

By Gioachino Rossini
With Ketevan Kemoklidze, Rene Barbera, Ronnita Nicole Miller, Stacey Tappan, Alessandro Corbelli, Vito Priante, Nicola Ulivieri
Directed by Joan Font
Conducted by James Conlon
Los Angeles Opera, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Through April 13, 2013

Thank heavens the new-to-Los Angeles production of Rossini’s “Cinderella” is nothing like the Disney-inspired picture on the cover of the program. This production has class, charm and sophistication plus a stage full of wonderful voices that make Rossini’s vocal gymnastics sound like child’s play. It is truly a production for (almost) all ages.

Director Joan Font is the founder of a Barcelona based company called Comediants. Their production of “Cinderella” was designed six years ago for Houston Grand Opera and has been on the road since. Costumes evocative of “Alice in Wonderland” imagery are set against an engagingly minimalist backdrop that stretches a mantel into a grand doorway, features shadow puppetry when a coach must thunder by in the distance, and changes color luminously. It is a perfect balance of simplicity and excess.

But, perhaps we should start with the rats. Hard to imagine rats stealing your hearts (particularly hard to image such a statement emanating from me), but they do, and they will. I dare you. Six dancers dash, twitch, and scratch about the stage during most of the production in whimsical rat costumes with splendid rat tails, apparently invisible to all in the villa except for the lovely and pure-hearted Cinderella (Ketevan Kemoklidze, who has seamlessly taken over the role from Kate Lindsey [seen in the video clip above] for the last three performances).

No more obnoxious stepsisters have zealously klutzed their way across a stage than Ronnita Nicole Miller and Stacy Tappan (Tisse and Clorinda). They shamelessly vie for attention in their bright pink and neon green wigs that look they were created by a cotton candy maker in a maniacal fit. Their exaggerated, almost fluorescent, pre-French revolutionary gowns top off the picture. What prince wouldn’t ignore them? What man wouldn’t fall under the spell of the beautiful Kemoklidze with her jewel-toned mezzo bel canto. Really, it is not a fair fight, but fight on they must for almost three hours.

The trick is to make this vocally challenging score float weightlessly and for the most part this LA Opera production is truly successful. James Conlon performs his usual magic with the LA Opera orchestra, and the cast turns Rossini’s demanding vocals into a whipped cream dessert. Not only is the production charming, the music impeccable, and the story seemingly fresh, but most of the singers have embraced the comedy in their roles. Close your eyes and tenor Rene Barbera is the prince to pine for, open them and … well, let’s just leave it at the fact that he is a pleasure to listen to. Alessandro Corbelli (Don Magnifico, the greedy father of the step sisters) and Vito Priante (Dandini, the prince’s servant who is impersonating the prince) make up for Barbera in their comic flair at no cost to their baritone voices. Personally? I would go for Dandini. The cavernous stage of the Dorothy Chandler has to take the fall for the other problem in this production. Rossini’s signature presto passages for ensemble and/or chorus are often swallowed by the stage.

In the beginning I said this is a program for almost all ages. Sadly, in the April 3 production there were several ill-advised parents who brought children who were obviously too young and ill prepared. Tears were produced, and frankly, to be expected and not appreciated by those nearby. This is a production for the set who can follow the super titles and get the humor. The three angels sitting next to me (ages approximately 7, 9, and 11) were the most enthusiastic audience when time came for the curtain calls and would have remained, halos intact I am certain, for another three hours.

If ever there was an opera that could appeal to the average person as well as the most discriminating, this production of Rossini’s “Cinderella” is it. Delightful, entertaining, technically demanding … what’s not to like?

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