Rossini’s William Tell overture may be on most people’s classical top ten, not least due to Bugs Bunny and the Lone Ranger. Yet even in the world of opera, where Barber of Seville is a standby, this composer has many works which deserve to be better-known. Thus it is a great delight to come across a production which presents La Cenerentola as a work which stands on its own merits, rather than an also-ran.
La Cenerentola is a retelling of Cinderella – only with no fairy godmother. Instead, the work substitutes a wise old tutor (Alidoro) to the prince, who perceives Cinderella’s exceptional virtues on a “fact-finding” tour: disguised as a beggar, he approaches every household in the area. Only Cinderella receives him with warmth.
Other variations from the Disney version? The wicked stepmother is swapped out for a greedy stepfather; there is no trace of a pumpkin carriage, nor of enchanted mice; and a pair of bracelets rather than a pair of glass shoes allow the prince to track Cinderella down.
But the most significant difference might well be this: the prince himself has changed places with his valet, remaining in disguise until the moment he arrives to claim his bride in the final act. Cinderella having chosen the “valet” rather than his supposed master now finds herself unexpectedly a princess. With her newfound status and power she chooses to forgive her family for her ill-treatment. The opera owes its second title, The Triumph of Goodness, to Cinderella’s magnanimous spirit.
This particular production reintroduced the enchanted mice, to great effect. Six dancers performed throughout as Cinderella’s silent companions in distress and Alidoro’s helpers. Their antics were a charming counterpoint to every scene in which they appeared.
The costuming was fantastical, colourful, and over-the-top. The staging was similarly of an exaggerated, choreographed manner which suited the music and story admirably. Indeed, the only naturalistic portrayal was Cinderella herself, a strikingly apt choice which cast her lack of airs in sharp relief with her social-climbing family. Vito Priante (as the playful valet Dandini), Pietro Spagnoli (as Don Magnifico, Cinderella’s stepfather), and Lauren Margison (as the elder stepsister Clorinda) particularly took the staging to heart, engaging with gusto and conviction in various details of stage play. Priante and Spagnoli’s duet, “Un segreto d’importanza”, was a particular success in this regard. For her part, Julie Boulianne projected the genuine kindness and humility required for the large-hearted Cinderella, evading the all-too-easy trap of making her a simpering goody-two shoes.
Only a couple of small regrets: Cinderella’s ball costume could have served to set her further apart, instead of following the cartoonish style of the stepsisters. Similarly, Don Ramiro’s outfit could have been actually elegant, instead of the same comical outfit as his valet in princely guise. Also, it would have been interesting if Juan José de Leon (Don Ramiro) had eschewed a buffo style and played his character as more akin to Cinderella in being down-to-earth, at the very least in his scenes with her, to clarify the effect she has on him (he does claim that she makes him want to be a better person).
It must be noted in Leon’s favour that his remarkable, stunning top brought down the house in “Si, ritrovarla io giuro”. Pietro Spagnoli and Vito Priante were rock solid, self-assured, and charming in their parts. Julie Boulianne’s silky mezzo was ideal in the title role and her vocal fireworks everything they needed to be for the part.
Rossini’s style abounds with fast, patter music and Cenerentola is no disappointment in that regard. Small hiccup there: there was some difficulty in keeping a couple of the large, fast ensembles perfectly together. The composer’s light-hearted style is an excellent fit for a fairy tale. There would however be some occasion to pare the work down for greater dramatic concision. As engaging as the performance was, the show is rather long. The first half clocked in at about an hour and forty minutes all on its own. This is a shame since in every other respect it is an excellent first opera for young ears and eyes.
The Opéra de Montréal’s production of Rossini’s Cenerentola is overall to be recommended as an entertaining evening of rollicking physical comedy, loveable characters, and radiant music in fine late classical style. Especially for those who particularly admire the mezzo-soprano voice, as Rossini famously did, this opera is an excellent vehicle to enjoy a great local singer in the title role. A good time was had by all – including, clearly, by the singers. And that makes a show worth seeing.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Contributor Sandra D’Angelo
L’Opéra de Montréal presents Rossini’s LA CENERENTOLA
Performances: November 11, 14, 16, & 18, 2017
Venue: Place des Arts, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier
(175 Saint-Catherine St W, Montreal, QC H2X 3X5)
Duration: 3 hours (one intermission)
Admission: $37.50 – 154.75
Tickets: 514.985.2258 | www.operademontreal.com