Florida Grand does Rossini right with charming, delightful “Cenerentola”
“Dying is easy, comedy is difficult,” said the actor Edmund Gwenn. Certainly that’s true on the opera stage as much as for legitimate theater. The broad strokes of Verdi’s drama and Puccini’s expiring heroines seem to have a higher batting average than the comedies of Rossini, Mozart or Donizetti, with the mix of comic timing and inspired vocalism a tricky combination to pull off.
Florida Grand Opera’s track record on comedies in general and Rossini, in particular, has been less than stellar in recent years, undone by inconsistent casting and directors who lard on the slapstick and lowbrow stage business.
Happily, such is not the case with the company’s current production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Florida Grand Opera has served up a witty, delightful staging of the Cinderella story, with an engaging cast, stylish conductor, and charming production that delivers the coloratura vocalism and comedy in winning fashion. There are only six more performances, and this one is not to be missed.
Rossini’s retooling of the Cinderella fairytale makes a few changes. The evil stepmother here is an avaricious stepfather, Don Magnifico. The fairy godmother role is a man as well, Alidoro, the prince’s tutor who masquerades as a beggar to enter Cinderella’s house. The prince, Don Ramiro, swaps positions with his valet, Dandini, and Cinderella falls for the prince, who she believes to be a humble valet. Meanwhile her greedy superficial stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, disdain the disguised prince and make a play for the faux royal. Ultimately, all is revealed, the good-hearted Cinderella forgives her scheming relatives and ascends the throne as Ramiro’s princess, closing the book with one of Rossini’s most brilliant display showpieces.
Cenerentola, despite its title, is a true ensemble opera with music equally divided among all the principals, and Rossini’s score is artfully spiced with elegant arias and rapid-fire solos and ensembles. At Sunday’s matinee some of the cast sounded a bit tired—possibly from having just sung the opening performance 15 hours earlier—with the ensemble ending Act 1 rough and unfocused. But for the most part, both the comedy and vocalism were well served by this characterful lineup of singers.
Julie Boulianne, who is alternating in the title role with Jennifer Rivera, sang Sunday’s performance. Her mezzo is not an instrument of great size or gleaming brilliance, and in Act 1, failed at times to project effectively.
Boulianne sang with greater presence and impact after intermission, and her refined and elegant vocalism suited the put-upon cinder-girl. The Canadian singer brought a touching intimacy to her opening aria “Una volta c’era un re,” and displayed facility with the coloratura bravura of the concluding, “Non piu mesta.” Physically, the petite mezzo looked the part completely with a waifish, vulnerable presence, that underlined Cinderella’s melancholy, later assuming the throne with quiet, self-possessed dignity.
As her prince, Frederic Antoun was superb across the board. The Canadian tenor’s easy regal bearing was just right for the nonstuffy Ramiro, playing off Dandini’s antics deftly and, most importantly, displaying the requisite high Rossini voice. Antoun blended gratefully with Boulianne in their duets and delivered the stratospheric goods in the Act 2 showpiece, “Si ritrovarla io guiro,” with clarion top C’s.
Much of the comedy falls to Dandini, the masquerading valet, and Marian Pop was simply hilarious in the buffo role. His vocal production was uneven at times Sunday, but the Romanian baritone consistently enlivened the production whether disguised as a foppish prince or unable to restrain himself from threatening Don Magnifico when back in livery.
Completing the Canadian trio of principals, was Gaetan Laperriere as the greedy stepfather. The baritone is too high a voice for this basso role but Laperriere managed to throw off Magnifico’s showpiece aria, “Sia qualunque delle figlie,” with nimble agility.
As the odious stepsisters Clorinda and Tisbe, Nili Riemer and Karin Mushegain were amusing if a bit over-the-top in their clowning, and both women displayed imposing voices for these comprimario roles. Carlos Monzon was the assured and resourceful Alidoro.
Gary Eckhart’s elegantly framed sets presented just the right storybook magic, skillfully lit by Gordon W. Olson. The men’s chorus singing was more wayward than we’re used to hearing.
Major kudos to conductor Joel Revzen and director A. Scott Parry who, like most of the cast, are making their FGO debuts. Revzen, a veteran Met hand and artistic director of Arizona Opera, showed himself an inspired and stylish Rossinian, pacing the two long acts masterfully with cleanly pointed rhythms and neat articulation throughout from the FGO orchestra.
Director Parry handled the stage with alert coordination of music and action, keeping the farce moving and allowing the singers their comic moments, while occasionally lifting the veil on the sadness that underlies the surface frivolity.
[Jennifer Rivera, heard as Cenerentola on Tuesday night, is equally impressive in the title role. The tall American mezzo has a larger, richer voice than Julie Boulianne and handled the fireworks with impressive strength and technique to spare. If Boulianne brought out the cinder-girl's vulnerability more touchingly , Rivera offered a feisty, spirited protagonist, entering more into the comedy of the opera.]
[Photos by Deborah Gray MItchell.]
Rossini’s La Cenerentola will be performed Jan. 27, 28, 30 and 31 at the Ziff Ballet Opera House in Miami and Feb. 5 and 7 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. 800-741-1010; www.fgo.org.
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Mon Jan 26, 2009
at 3:40 pm