MLO’s delightful “Cenerentola” proves a joy for all ages

By Lawrence Budmen

xx Berti and yy voodoo in Miami Lyric Opera's production of Rossini's "La Cenerentola" (Cinderella) at South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center. Photo: MLO

Megan Berti and Enrique Guzman in Miami Lyric Opera’s production of Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” (Cinderella) at South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center. Photo: MLO

Charles Perrault’s classic fairy tale Cinderella has inspired numerous theatrical, operatic and dance adaptations but few versions can match the comedic verve and bubbly profusion of inspired melodies that Gioacchino Rossini created in his 1817 opera buffa, La Cenerentola. On Saturday night Miami Lyric Opera brought this heady confection to the stage of the South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay. The wonderfully zany production was matched by a gifted cast that fully met Rossini’s difficult vocal demands.

Instead of an evil stepmother, Rossini created the stepfather Don Magnifico whose venom is matched by his ineptitude. The glass slipper is replaced by a bracelet and the prince’s tutor Alidoro brings Cinderella to the ball rather than a fairy godmother. From the overture to the heroine’s final brilliant aria, the musical high spirits never abate.

Director Raffaele Cardone fielded a cast with nary a weak link. As the heroine Megan Berti exuded sympathy at her first appearance clad in rags and alone with a mop in the corner of Don Magnifico’s crumbling mansion. When she came to the ball, she was every inch a queen and  she commanded the stage at her final triumph.

Berti’s light mezzo sparkled in the concluding showpiece “Non più mesta,” her accurate and well-placed trills fully earning the crown placed on her head. Her plea to Don Magnifico to let her come to the ball was replete with pathos, buttressed by a warm and plush lower register.

Enrique Guzman’s finely shaded lyric tenor and genial stage demeanor encompassed the prince Don Ramiro’s playfulness when disguised as his valet. His sweet, dulcet soft tones were as impressive as his strength and agility at the top. When Berti and Guzman’s voices blended in the duet “Un soave non se che” at their initial meeting, the effect was magical.

Yet this prince was no pushover. After Don Magnifico and the stepsisters insult Cinderella when the prince announces she is his chosen bride, Guzman’s rage was palpably felt in vehement and powerful declamation. This young Mexican tenor is a singer of great promise, particularly for bel canto roles.

Stefanos Koroneos had the comic bass, firm low notes,  polished affinity and split-second timing for Don Magnifico’s lightning patter. His every bumbling appearance merited attention whether extolling his outrageously attired stepdaughters or trading subtle quips with the prince’s valet Dandini.

In a breakout performance, Gabriel Menendez (a former member of the MLO chorus) cavorted about the stage in false royal garb and mock aristocratic step as Danfini, disguised as the prince. Menendez’s firmly placed baritone had solidity at the highest and lowest extremes with the deft timing and verve of a born comic.

Mikhail Smigelski was a striking Alidoro, tall and regal with a rotund Slavic bass. The depth and resonance of his sonority and smooth, even cantabile line shone impressively in his scene with Berti. Gina Galati and Elizabeth DiFronzo were class casting as the stepsisters Clorinda and Tisbe, bringing substantial voices and comedic antics at every turn.

The Act I finale, based on the famous theme in the overture, was a particular delight. With the seven voices  perfectly balanced and at top strength, Berti cut loose with coloratura that dazzled. Conductor Leo Walz paced the many ensemble pieces adroitly but was less effective in some of the arias which would have benefited from greater élan. Indeed the orchestra was the one weak spot, not up to Rossini’s brilliant writing with an especially ragged and sluggish overture.

Cardone’s fast-paced staging drew repeated laughter from the audience, the sight gags every bit as effervescent as Rossini’s music. In the final scene, Cinderella’s forgiveness of her family and goodness were genuinely touching. The handsome sets and costumes from the Sormani-Stivanello company were enchanting, none more so than when the trees and fountain outside the palace vanished and were replaced by the white pillars and ceiling and red entrance doors of the palace ballroom. The entire production was one of Cardone’s most detailed, theatrically vivid efforts.

With one remaining performance, this MLO Cenerentola makes a great introduction for children and young adults to the magic of opera.

Miami Lyric Opera repeats La Cenerentola 4 p.m. Sunday at the South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay.

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Sun Jul 7, 2019
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