Friday, 27 January 2017 13:27

Arts Capsule: Even without magic, Rossini's take on 'Cinderella' enchants

Written by 
Joseph Ryan (center) and the company Joseph Ryan (center) and the company Photo: Wade Brothers Productions

Rossini's romantic comedy La Cenerentola, which is getting a entertaining if slightly flawed production from Winter Opera this weekend, was something of a rush job for its composer. Based in part on the classic fairy tale Cinderella, it was thrown together in three weeks at the end of 1816 when the libretto for the opera Rossini was originally supposed to write (on a completely different subject) was rejected by the Papal Censor.

[See my complete review at Stage Left]

L-R: Sharon Sullivan, Robin Bradley, Andrew Potter,
Joseph Ryan, Isaac Frishman
Photo: Wade Brothers Productions

Still, as the production Winter Opera is presenting this Friday and Sunday (January 27 and 29) demonstrates, it holds up pretty well. The score is a charming cornucopia of elaborate coloratura arias, rapid-fire patter songs, and the kind of layered ensembles that earned Rossini the nickname “Signor Crescendo.” Stage director Matthew Haney may be overly fond of cluttering up those ensembles with silly stylized movement that is almost (but not quite) choreography, but even so the good humor of Rossini's music and Jacopo Ferretti's libretto remain intact.

The role of Angelina (a.k.a. Cenerentola) is something of a rarity-a leading coloratura part written for a contralto. Kate Tombaugh, who sings the role here, is a mezzo but sounded quite at ease with the part's tessitura when I saw her at the final dress rehearsal Wednesday night. I thought she sounded a bit less comfortable with the role's coloratura side, however.

Rossini was generous to the lower male voices as well, with choice roles for two basses and a baritone - the social-climbing stepfather Don Magnifico (the prototypical "buffo" clown of Italian comic opera), the Prince's wise tutor Alidoro (substituting for the fairy godmother because Rossini hated supernatural elements in opera), and the wily valet Dandini, who spends most of the opera masquerading as Prince Ramiro so the latter can get an unvarnished look at the Magnifico family.

Kate Tombaugh
Photo: Wade Brothers Productions

Winter Opera is blessed with three very strong performers in these key parts. Bass Andrew Potter's alcoholic pomposity is spot on, and he handles the role's more florid passages expertly, although at dress rehearsal he sometimes got out of synch with the orchestra. Baritone Joseph Ryan is equally strong vocally and makes the most of Dandini's droll observations.

Tenor Isaac Frishman is Prince Ramiro, hiding behind a pair of glasses, Clark Kent style, to separate the gold diggers from the real princess candidates. Mr. Frishman acts the part a bit blandly but sings beautifully, which is ultimately more important.

The male chorus, under the direction of Nancy Mayo, sings with power and precision even when they're marching around the stage and then falling down into a heap (which happens more often than necessary). Conductor Kostis Protopapas conducts with a sure hand-although I would have liked somewhat more fleet tempi in the overture-and the small orchestra (fewer than 20 players) sounded quite polished, especially for a final dress.

Rossini's La Cenerentola isn't heard that often-it was last done in a somewhat stripped-down version by Union Avenue Opera in 2011—so this production is most welcome and a great deal of fun overall. The opera is sung it Italian with English supertitles. Winter Opera's La Cenerentola will be performed Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., January 27 and 29, at the Skip Viragh Center on the Chaminade campus on Lindbergh just north of Plaza Frontenac. For more information: winteroperastl.org.

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