French director Laurent Pelly’s imaginative and well-regarded operatic productions are familiar in much of Europe and in such American companies as the Santa Fe Opera. None had been seen at the Los Angeles Opera until Rossini’s Cinderella story, “La Cenerentola”. Pelly’s production, which had been perfomed in Amsterdam, Geneva and Madrid, premiered in Los Angeles in late November 2021.
Serena Malfi’s Cenerentola and Levy Sekgapane’s Prince Ramiro
All versions of the Cinderella story regard an underappreciated young woman, living with a hostile stepfamily, who receives an unexpected opportunity to attend a prince’s ball. Impressing the prince, she ultimately becomes the bride the prince has been seeking. Rossini’s version, shorn of such supernatural features as fairy godmothers and pumpkins becoming coaches, centers on the virtuous characters of Cinderella (Cenerentola), her Prince, and the prince’s tutor, Alidoro. The villains of the opera are Cenerentola’s stepfather and stepsisters.
[Below: Prince Ramiro (Levy Sekgapane, left) disguised as his valet, holds a mop while Cenerentola (Serena Amalfi, right) holds a pail of mop water; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Italian mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi assumed the title role brilliantly. She proved a worthy actress, convincing both as a bespectacled, unadorned servant in a soiled charwoman’s apron, and as a mysterious, elegantly dressed, eyecatching presence at a royal ball.
Malfi gave a dazzling performance. Cenerentola is a role with uncomprising vocal demands. The opera’s finale is the showpiece aria Nacqui all’ affanno e al pianto. In that aria, Malfi showed mastery of Rossini’s technique of creating vocal pyrotechnics through vocal runs – continuous repetitions of fast-moving descending scales – intermixed with coloratura flourishes.
Only four years ago, Malfi sustained throat surgery to extract a cancerous thyroid, and, through hard work rebuilt her voice to one that now shows astonishing flexibility. Even though I had admired Malfi’s Cherubino previously [Review: Strong Cast, Arresting New Production for “Marriage of Figaro” – San Francisco Opera, October 13, 2019], I found her prowess in performing the Rossini’s challenging music to be astounding.
[Below: Cenerentola (Serena Malfi) appears at the prince’s ball as an guest whose identity is unknown; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
This was my first opportunity to observe a performance of the South African lyric tenor Levy Sekgapane, whose international operatic credentials had been secured by winning a first prize in Placido Domingo’s 2017 Operalia competition. Sekgapane displayed appealing bel canto technique in the Prince’s signature aria Si, ritrovarla io giuro. He was an affecting and persuasive actor.
[Below: Levy Sekgapane as Ramiro; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Alessandro Corbelli’s Don Magnifico and Rodion Pogossov’s Dandini
The Pelly production provided an opportunity to reunite two masterful comedians – Italian basso buffo Alessandro Corbelli and Russian bass-baritone Rodion Pogossov, last seen together at Los Angeles Opera as Figaro and Don Bartolo [Review: Rossini Royalty Present Brilliant “Barber of Seville” – Los Angeles Opera, February 28, 2015]. Corbelli played the haughty Don Magnifico, Pogossov the Prince’s valet, Dandini.
Unbenownst to Magnifico, Dandini had changed costumes with Prince Ramiro. This allowed the prince to explore Magnifico’s household (and meet Cenerentola) with his actual rank and position undetected. This sets up the comic byplay of Corbelli’s blue-blooded Magnifico being tricked into obsequiousnesss to a lowly servant – Pogossov’s Dandini.
Pogossov played a Dandini who delights in tricking an overbearing noble, and Corbelli played a Magnifico who believes his fortune has changed for the better. Both employed their armamentaria of facial gestures, head movements, and studied poses, while singing Rossini’s comical phrases.
[Below: Don Magnifico (Alessandro Corbelli, right) is angry after learning from Dandini (Rodion Pogossov, right) how he has been tricked; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photogrqph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Corbelli, master of the rapid tongue-twisting patter that Rossini and his librettists created for the basso buffo voice, hit his stride early in the performance. In his first aria, Miei rampolli femminini, Magnifico describes (and analyzes) a dream in which he is transformed into a donkey who sprouts feathers and flies up to a bell tower.
Soon Dandini, whom Magnifico thinks is the Prince, arrives, dressed as are the prince’s courtiers, in the pink outfits that in this production are intended to evoke the prince’s court. Dandini’s arrival with the coterie is an opera director’s dream. It allows one’s imagination to use Rossini’s rhythmic music – a jaunty march for the choristers and Dandini’s zany aria Come un’ape ne’giorni d’aprile (nicely performed by Pogossov) – to create, as happened here, a very funny scenario. Pogossov brilliantly inhabited a role that apparently can never be too over-the-top.
Pogossov, an alumnus of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists program, has sung two of the most celebrated comic lyric baritone roles with the Los Angeles Opera – debuting with the company as Mozart’s Papageno [Review: Outrageously Inventive, Unceasingly Entertaining – Kosky/Andrade/Barritt’s Silent Movie “Magic Flute” Wows L. A. – Los Angeles Opera, November 23, 2013] and performing Rossini’s Figaro in 2015 (cited above).
[Below: Rodion Pogossov as Dandini; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Pogossov’s Dandini offers Corbelli’s Magnifico a position at court, wine cellar steward. Corbelli, with panache, performed Don Magnifico’s hilarious aria with chorus Intendente . . . reggitor? in which Magnifico suggests he is the right person to take charge of (and drink) the contents of the Prince’s wine cellar.
[Below: Alessandro Corbelli as Don Magnifico; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Over the past 13 years, I have enjoyed Corbelli’s performances, including the roles of Doctor Dulcamara [Review: Vargas Shines Bright in Stellar “L’Elisir d’Amore” – San Francisco Opera, November 9, 2008] and Don Bartolo [Review: Lucas Meachem, René Barbera, Daniela Mack in a Beguiling “Barber of Seville” – San Francisco Opera, November 29, 2015] in San Francisco, Don Alfonso Review: Classy Cast in Classic “Cosi fan Tutte” – Houston Grand Opera, October 31, 2014] in Houston and Taddeo [Review: Genaux, Brownlee and Vinco Romp in Rossini’s “L’Italiana” – Garnier Opera House, Paris – October 8, 2010] in Paris.
Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s Alidoro
In luxury casting, the role of Alidoro is sung by Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, who was a mesmerizing presence in his role as tutor to the Prince.
Alidoro first appears as a beggar that Cenerentola feeds over the objections of her stepsisters Clorinda and Tisbe. He thereby determines for the Prince which of the inhabitants of Don Magnifico’s household are good-hearted (Cenerentola) and which are vain, pompous and mean-spirited (Don Magnifico and Cenerentola’s two stepsisters).
Once d’Arcangelo’s Alidoro has assessed the situation, he takes command of the action, like a conductor, first providing Cenerentola with the finery and transportation to the Prince’s ball, and then providing valuable intelligence to the Prince which leads to his choosing her as his bride.
[Below: the prince’s tutor Alidoro (Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, center, above) disguised as a beggar, upsets Clorinda (Erica Petrocelli, left) and Tisbe (Gabriela Flores, right); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Alidoro’s actions are central to the plot, but the role can be underappreciated in the bustle of the comic shenanigans in which Dandini and Magnifico engage. D’Arcangelo was a dramatic, vocally praiseworthy presence, whose performance of the role was revelatory of the character’s centrality to the opera’s plot
[Below: Ildebrando d’Arcangelo as Alidoro; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
I have reviewed d’Arcangelo’s perfomances at the Los Angeles Opera of the past decade, including his Ferrando [Review: Stylish Production, Fine Cast for “Cosi fan Tutte” – Los Angeles Opera, September 18, 2011 ], his Don Giovanni [Review: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s Roguish Libertine, James Conlon’s Impressive Conducting, in Insightful “Don Giovanni” – Los Angeles Opera, September 22, 2012], his Escamillo [Review: Domingo at Helm for a Stellar “Carmen” – Los Angeles Opera, September 21, 2013 ] and his Sarastro [Review: A Youthful Cast Excels in Los Angeles Opera “Magic Flute” – December 1, 2019].
I have also written about his performances of Don Giovanni in San Diego and San Francisco [Review: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo Leads Strong “Don Giovanni” Cast – San Diego Opera, February 14, 2015 and Review: “Don Giovanni” – D’Arcangelo, Schrott Lead Stellar Cast; Mozart Magic from Maestro Minkowski; – San Francisco Opera, June 4, 2017] and his Escamillo in Munich [[Review: An Engaging “Carmen” with Maximova, Jovanovich, Schultz and d’Arcangelo – Bayerische Staatsoper, May 13, 2016]. He has never failed to give an impressive performance.
Erica Petrocelli’s Clorinda and Gabriela Flores’ Tisbe
The stepsisters Clorinda and Tisbe were performed respectively by Rhode Island soprano Erica Petrocelli and Mexican mezzo-soprano Gabriela Flores. Petrocelli is an alumna of and Flores a current member of Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artists Program. Each made strong impressions as singers and comediennes and held their own in this all-star cast.
This is my fourth Los Angeles Opera performance in which Erica Petrocelli appeared, which included the principal starring role of Musetta [Review: A Beautifully Sung “La Boheme” with Saimir Pirgu and Marina Costa-Jackson – Los Angeles Opera, September 14, 2019] in addition to the comprimario roles of the First Lady in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and a Shepherd in Wagner’s “Tannhauser”.
[Below: the sisters Clorinda (Erica Petrocelli, left) and Tisbe (Gabriela Flores) are both seeking the favors of the valet Dandini (Rodion Pogossov, center), who has disguised himself as the prince; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.
I had not previouslsy seen Flores, who has the distinction of being a graduate of Philadelphia’s Academy of the Vocal Arts. She, like Petrocelli, is obviously well-poised for a successsful operatic career.
Maestro Roberto Abbado and the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra
Italian Maestro Roberto Abbado led the Los Angele Opera Orchestra in a spirited performance. Abbado has impeccable Rossini credentials, including musical preparation at the Conservatorio di G. Rossini in the composer’s home town of Pesaro, frequent appearances at Pesaro’s Rossini Festivals and authorship of critical editions of Rossini operas. The Orchestra sound was brilliant under Abbado’s authoritative leadership.
Maestro Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Opera Chorus
The men of the Los Angeles Opera Chorus, dressed in princely pink, were, under the direction of Chorus Master Grant Gershon, in fine voice,
[Below: Levy Sekgapane, center, is Prince Ramiro, surrounded by his courtiers (Los Angeles Opera Chorus); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
Director and Costume Designer Laurent Pelly and Scenic Designer Chantal Thomas
Laurent Pelly’s “Cenerentola” production was imaginative and absorbing. It contrasted two worlds – the first, the cheap, run down rooms of the down-and-out Magnifico; the second, the luxurious world of the prince’s court. Pelly’s long-time collaborator French scenic designer Chantal Thomas created the sets.
Cenerentola’s servant duties take place in a 1950s style household, filled with mid-20th century furnishings, including such appliances as a washer, drier, refrigerator and television set. The different parts of Magnifico’s living area were on movable platforms that would change position or be moved off the stage entirely, depending on Pelly’s idea of how an individual scene should look.
In contrast, the prince’s world is bathed in exotic pink. Originally, the contrasting worlds implied that everything happening in the pink world was Cenerentola’s daydream. For those who feel the “daydream” concept worked against the plot of Rossini’s opera and Cinderella stories in general, one simply could ignore the idea. After all, everything that Cenerentola and Prince Ramiro sing suggests they are destined for a “happily ever after” ending.
[Below: Cenerentola (Serena Malfi, center, on top of refrigerator) leaves for the ball in a pink coach; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]
What made the performance so memorable was the depth and excellence of the cast, supported by Maestro Abbado and the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Chorus. The five principal singers – Serena Malfi, Levy Sekgapane, Alesssandro Corbelli, Rodion Pogossov and Ildebrando d’Arcangelo – gave spectacular performances, and so did the two comprimaria artists, Erica Petrocelli and Gabriela Flores.
[Below: the principal cast of “La Cenerentola”, from left to right, Alessandro Corbelli as Don Magnifico, Serena Malfi as Cenerentola, Rodion Pogossov as Dandini, Levy Sekgapane as Prince Ramiro and Ildebrando d’Arcangelo as Alidoro.]
I recommend this performance to both the veteran opera-goer and the person new to opera.
For my review of a previous Los Angeles Opera “Cenerentola” performance, see: Review: Love All Around for Cinderella, Prince Charming in Joan Font’s Zany Staging of Rossini’s “Cenerentola” – Los Angeles Opera, March 23, 2013