Cenerentola review

I saw the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s production of Rossini’s Cinderella (or La Cenerentola if you use the Italian version of the title) with a friend last Friday, and she remarked, as we descended from the terrifying heights of the Amphitheatre level at the Academy of Music,* that she hadn’t seen anything as inventive at the opera in ages. Neither had I, for that matter. It’s a decidedly wacky production of one of Rossini’s giddier comic operas, and even though it took me a little while to warm to the production concept, warm to it I most definitely did. The e-mail notice I got from the Academy of Music mailing list said something about "inspired by Pop Art"; the set was a black-and-white striped floor and wall with screens hanging above it, on which were projected Roy Lichtenstein-esque animations. Everyone wore 1950s costumes; Cinderella shed her maid’s uniform to arrive at the ball, on a motorcycle, in gold lamé pants and movie star sunglasses. And Cinderella was accompanied in many of her scenes by a remote-controlled vacuum cleaner that followed her around like a pet dog. I found the screens a little busy and distracting at times, and I didn’t quite get the vacuum cleaner (Beauty and the Beast? a fairy godmother substitute?). But somehow it all worked.

I’m neglecting the singing, but Ruxandra Donose, who sang Cinderella, has a lovely rich voice and enough charisma to make her character — who spends much of the opera being long-suffering and put upon, and wondering why her stepfamily can’t treat her better — more than one-dimensional. I’d read all manner of good things about Lawrence Brownlee, the Don Ramiro, in the papers, and he didn’t disappoint at all. Among other things, he made all that crazy Rossinian coloratura sound easy. Their duet together in Act 1 ("Un soave non so che") was the point at which they and the production won me over.

It’s also a very self-consciously theatrical production. At various points the chorus (18 men in matching white suits) formed a chorus line and swayed in
time with the main characters’ singing, as if they were marionettes
being lifted on strings. I’d never noticed how many lines Dandini has about whether the whole thing will turn out as comedy or tragedy, but here he broke the fourth wall to offer the occasional meta-comment on the plot. The stepsisters made a few entrances from the audience (one of them turned up in a box!), and in his hilariously tipsy aria in praise of wine, Don Magnifico came perilously close to toppling into the orchestra pit.

In short, we were all a very happy audience by the end of the evening. Now I’m looking forward to going back for another opera or two later in the season. Hey, Philadelphia-area readers, anyone interested in going to see the OCP’s Falstaff in May? I’m thinking of getting a group together.

* The sudden moment of vertigo as we entered the amphitheatre reminded me of undergraduate days in Chicago, when I used to go to the Lyric in groups that always ended up in the nosebleed seats. It’s not the height so much as the steeper-than-45-degree angle of the steps down. Fortunately the acrophobia went away, now as it did back then, as soon as we took our seats.

One Response to “Cenerentola review”

  1. brd says:

    This sounds like it was wonderful! If you are going to toy with the production, you might as well do it with a Rossini-made-for-public-consumption opera (written in the course of 24 days).
    I still haven’t quite gotten over the Chereau Ring Cycle which though hard to embrace as heartily as your Cenerentola, was doubtless as inventive.
    I knew you would like the Philadelphia Opera scene.