OperaColorado: Cinderella has the Audience Laughing 'til Their Sides Hurt!

OperaColorado provided an endless source of laughter with their latest production, Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). This is a farce of the first magnitude, yet this performance under the direction of Grischa Asagaroff was off the Richter scale in terms of comedic timing. I can’t remember when I've heard an opera audience laugh so much.

The opening began with a long, but luscious overture under the baton of Timothy Long and the musicians of the Colorado Symphony. The audience grew a bit restless with the length of the overture, but it was beautifully played. The curtain rose to show the dilapidated house of the Baron Don Magnifico in trompe o’lieo design, black etchings depicting three dimensional architecture on a white (or cream) canvas. Immediately we are transported into a fairytale story (or book).

La Cenerentola requires amazing flexibility and control for all the vocalists. The music is filled with vocal fireworks, from the opening “Cenerentola vien qua” where the two sisters are ordering Angelina about, “Cinderella come here, my shoes, my bonnet, my pen, my necklace…” the rapid fire lyrics and impeccable timing of the three vocalists allow Rossini’s music to dance about the hall. Time and time again we are treated to solo or multi-voiced moments of extreme velocity. The stunning cast captures each note with amazing precision.

Angelina (Cinderella), played by Daniela Mack is placed center stage in brown rags, with her sisters, Clorinda, played by Christie Hageman, and Tisbe, played by Julia Tobiska, in their rooms to either side. The sisters are gaudy and over done in terms of makeup and costume, setting the feeling of farce before they even begin to sing.

Daniela Mack as Angelina was wonderful. Her rich, lyrical voice swept the stage with tenderness. We immediately felt a sense of compassion for her with the longing in her voice for “Una volta c'era un re.” In the end there is a transformation from popper to princess. Angelina’s final aria “Nacqui all'affanno, al pianto” provides Daniela with the perfect opportunity to show off her power, range and emotional control as she asks her husband, the Prince, to pardon her step-father and sisters.

Christie Hageman as Clorinda was delightfully funny and even spent some time on point, not something you expect from a lyric soprano. But then again, neither is impeccable comic timing and Christie has both. Julia Tobiska as her sister Tisbe was delightfully funny. As a pair they were ideal as the evil step sisters, accentuating the sympathy we have for Angelina.

Dale Travis as Alidoro, both the old tutor and the beggar man, brought his rich lyric bass voice to the role, giving a sense of stateliness and poise to a production rich in farce –a great foil to offset the comedy. In opposition to this is Philip Cokorinos as Don Magnifico, the perfect combination of old statesman and buffoon. He is an ass, as his character puts it in “Miei rampolli femminini,” and portrayed the high farce of his role perfectly.

Michele Angelini as Prince Ramino was striking. His power and versatility were impressive, particularly so for a young man. In the second act, “Si, ritrovarla io guiro” is when the Prince declares he will no longer be disguised and will find his love. The amount of sound he is able to produce is stunning. He has quite a career ahead of him.

Daniel Blecher as Dandini the Prince's valet, who gets to masquerade as the Prince, was excellent. He sang “Come un'ape ne' giorni d'aprile” in the first act delighting the audience with his comedic acting and his amazingly flexible baritone voice.

The set, by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle was wonderful, a delightful setting of a fairytale with a collection of pockets that open revealing surprise after surprise. The sepia tone of the backdrop set in sharp contrast to the bold colors, particularly those of the gentlemen in red coats! At no point was the set a distraction even though it was wholly ornate and filled with imagination.

The costumes, however, were confusing. Don Magnifico was dressed in classic pantaloons and coat, which would fit an older baron, perhaps out of style. The Prince, when dressed as a valet, also wore pantaloons, which sort of set him apart. But, in the final scene he was still in pantaloons, which is not what the actual valet, Dandini wore when pretending to be the Prince. The gentlemen were in white tie and tails reminiscent of the fin de siecle, which matched Dandini as the Prince and Alidoro as the tutor. Putting the Prince in an older style in the end seemed incongruous. Add to that Angelina’s final dress was Spanish 19th century large hoops, which didn’t match anything.
The costumes of the two step sisters were delightful in their renditions of Little Bo Peep and a Peppermint Candy, as were the gentlemen chorus in their white tie and tails or formal hunting red coats.
The lighting design by Chris Maravich was invisible except for the rain scene, which means it was perfect. It never detracted from the scene and yet everything was always visible when it needed to be. The baron’s home felt dusty and run down, due to the muted brown hues, where as the Prince’s lodgings were bright and colorful, adding to the brilliance of the step-sisters gaudy gowns.

The chorus was impeccable. They were well directed and their timing beautifully choreographed so at no point did they steal the scene from someone singing and yet, when they did move it was sharp and to the point. Grischa Asagaroff did an amazing job getting the farce just right. Often times farce productions let the actors run wild, and when this happens too much activity goes on during any given scene. However, in Cinderella, the action was always under control to such a degree that it never felt that way - the hallmark of success in directing farce. No actor stole the spotlight during another actor’s moment, and with an abundance of movement as was on stage, that’s a minor miracle. In the opening scene Clorinda danced on point while Tisbe powdered her face. Neither of these actions was overt when Angelina was singing, so our focus was solely on her voice and not the comedy of her sisters. Yet, when they needed to pull focus, they did. A brilliantly subtle scene and set the stage for an entire opera filled with that sort of precise crafting of action.

What a delightful production. The music is stunning, and so is everything else. Whether you are a long fan of opera, or a newcomer to its delights, Opera Colorado presents a full evening of entertainment with laughter for everyone.

There are 3 more performances at the Ellie Caulkin Opera House
Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 7:30 pm
Friday, May 6, 2011 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 2:00 pm
For tickets online: www.operacolorado.org
or call: 303.778.1500

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