Last December, I reported on a performance of the Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production of Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” in Paris, and the confluence of this influential production (which appeared in its first permutation at the San Francisco Opera in 1969) with a revival of interest in Rossini’s great body of operatic work. [See Ponnelle’s Historic “Cenerentola” at the Garnier – Opera National de Paris, December 1, 2012.]
Almost four decades later, another extraordinary production of Rossini’s comic opera, like Ponnelle’s, had its world premiere in the United States, created not by a Frenchman in California, but by a Catalan Spaniard in Texas, at the Houston Grand Opera in 2007.
A co-production of the Texas company with opera companies in Spain, Wales, Switzerland and Belgium, it has achieved enormous popularity on its march through the opera companies of the world, with a run at Seattle Opera before its arrival this evening in Los Angeles.
The genius who created this new comedy franchise is Joan Font, one of the creative masterminds behind Els Comediants, a Barcelona-based theatrical initiative. Although, of course, there are alternative productions of the opera to the classic Ponnelle and this new kid on the block, the list of artists who have mastered the highly choreographed routines of these two great productions would make up a Who’s Who of Rossini singers.
Kate Lindsey’s Angelina (Cinderella)
Virginia-born mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey had made her Los Angeles Opera debut two years earlier in a smaller role in another Rossini comedy [see Partying in L. A.: Machaidze, Gavanelli Romp in All-Star “Turco in Italia” – Los Angeles Opera, February 19, 2011], as with this “Cenerentola”, under the baton of Music Director James Conlon.
Her career as a lyric mezzo firmly established, she exhibited both the vocal virtuosity required of the Rossini operas and mastery of Font’s complex choreographed routines created for the several hilarious ensembles that characterize Rossini’s comedy.
[Below: Kate Lindsey is assisted at her chores by two of her household’s resident rats; edited image, based on a copyrighted Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Rene Barbera’s Prince Ramiro
As the first artist to win all three of the major Operalia prizes (opera, zarzuela and audience choice) in Placido Domingo’s international vocal competition, it seemed inevitable that Texas native Rene Barbera would soon debut in Los Angeles.
Trained in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Young Artists’ program, Barbera proved to be a leggiero tenor with both power and flexibility, ready for recognition as among the first rank of international leggiero tenors.
[Below: Rene Barbera as Prince Ramiro; edited image, based on a copyrighted Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Vito Priante’s Dandini
The night proved an auspicious American debut for Italian bass-baritone Vito Prianti.
Many Californians have memories of the great Italian buffo artists Renato Capecchi and Sesto Bruscantini as Dandini in mountings of the San Francisco Opera Ponnelle production and are aware how an experienced artist can steal the show with this larger than life role. Prianti carried on this tradition, absolutely over the top, yet in perfect control.
[Below: Vito Prianti as Dandini; edited image, based on a copyrighted Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Alessandro Corbelli’s Don Magnifico and Magnifico’s elder daughters
The buffo role, Don Magnifico, with its tongue-twisting patter songs, was ably performed by Alessandro Corbelli. Rounding out the comic threesome that constitutes Angelina’s dysfunctional family were Stacey Tappan as Clorinda and Ronnita Nicole Miller as Tisbe.
After Dandini, this threesome has the most opportunity for the broadly funny routines, and all three successfully projected Font’s comic vision.
[Below: Don Magnifico (Alessandro Corbelli, center) nestles between his favored daughters Tisbe (Ronnita Nicole Miller, left) and Clorinda (Stacey Tappan, right); edited image, based on a copyrighted Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Nicola Ulivieri’s Alidoro
Italian bass Nicola Ulivieri made his Los Angeles Opera debut impressively as the Prince’s philosopher-advisor Alidoro. In Rossini’s version of the Cinderella legend Alidoro assumes the functions of convincing Cinderella that she should crash the party and providing her with the ball gown with accouterments and the elegant vehicle that would make her arrival conspicuous in a good way.
[Below: Nicola Ulivieri as Alidoro; edited image, based on a copyrighted Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Whereas Rossini’s version of the Cinderella myth lacked the the magical themes that we associate with the 17th century French story-teller Charles Parrault (Cendrillon), as embellished by Walt Disney’s 1950 film Cinderella – the fairy godmother, a pumpkin and mice turned into a horse-drawn carriage and livery, a glass slipper lost at a ball – Font finds abundant opportunity for homage to the more familiar versions of the story.
Best symbolizing “the other story” were the constant presence of six household rats. If Font’s rats lacked individual personalities like Jacques and Gus in Disney’s Cinderella or like the kitchen rats in Disney’s Ratatouille, they were an arresting image nonetheless.
Companions and helpers to the chore-burdened Cinderella, they reminded me of Mustafa’s pet tiger, who so often stole the show in Font’s production of Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers” [See Daniela Barcellona Triumphs in Font’s Whimsical Production of “L’Italiana in Algeri” – Houston Grand Opera, November 3, 2012.]
[Below: Angelina (Kate Lindsey, in vessel), is carried to a formal ball by her household rats; edited image, based on a c opyrighted Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Although it is possible to read into Rossini’s opera a darker, moral tale, and some productions have approached it in a much more serious way than one sees in this production, Rossini’s musical ensembles lend themselves to a farcical treatment.
The opera was lovingly conducted by James Conlon, whose affection for Rossini he elaborated to the standing room audience for his pre-performance lecture.
Font’s brilliant re-reading of the work has charmed audiences in several European cities and in the United States as well. It is an incessant delight, with vibrant visuals enriching the constant stream of beautifully sung melodies.
I recommend the production and the Los Angeles Opera performances for all opera goers, including those of all ages who may be new to opera.
[Below: the “Cenerentola” finale; resized image, based on a copyrighted Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
For my other reviews of Kate Lindsey performances, see: Meachem, Vinco, Lead Cast of Imaginatively Staged “Don Giovanni” – San Francisco Opera, October 23, 2011, and also,
Groves, Wall, Lindsey Excel in Christopher Alden’s Harrowing, Hallucinatory “Hoffmann” – Santa Fe Opera, July 17, 2010, and also,
The Man Who Loved Women: Lucas Meachem’s Empathetic Don Giovanni – Santa Fe, July 31, 2009.
For my other reviews of Alessandro Corbelli performances, see: Genaux, Brownlee and Vinco Romp in Rossini’s “L’Italiana”: Garnier Opera House, Paris – October 8, 2010, and also,
Vargas Shines Bright in Stellar S. F. “L’Elisir d’Amore” – November 9, 2008.