The Washington Opera, presents Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola) at the Kennedy Center, performed in Italian with easy to read subtitles. The rags to riches story beloved by generations has morphed through the years, first told in China dating back to the ninth century. Originally performed first in Rome in 1817, Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo (Cinderella, or Goodness Triumphant) the libretto was written by Jacopo Ferretti, was based primarily on the children’s book Cendrillon by Charles Perrault. The production was skillfully directed by Joan Font and it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a Disney or Roger’s and Hammerstein’s production.
…hilarious and sweet, magical and sobering.
From the very start we see that our Cinderella, beautifully performed the night that I viewed the show when the role of Angelina*, otherwise known as Cinderella by Isabel Leonard, is a plucky, argumentative young woman who longs for the love of her step-sisters and step-father. She is not a victim, but a sorrowful young girl with a darker deep commanding contralto demonstrating Angelena’s strength and character. She does not whine about her plight but rather debates her family’s position that she cannot attend the ball. It is conjectured that this lead was written for the lower voice, (as almost all opera has the female lead as a soprano), to show the character’s humility. Even without looking at the subtitles, audiences understand through the superb acting of this cast that it is going to be hilarious and sweet, magical and sobering.
Early into the show the two step sisters, Clorinda (Jacqueline Echols), and Tisbe, (Deborah Nansteel) make for an uproarious duo. Their purposefully ridiculous costuming, with side bustles augmenting hip sizes to impossible girths, made them dense force not to mention an obstacle on stage. Thoughtless and egocentric while prancing and singing the audience cheers them on while with every word they say makes them less likely to achieve princess status. Jacqueline Echols had the clear coloratura voice normally cast as heroine, so interestingly the most dulcet voice did not combine with sweetest character. In many of the large production numbers it is Jacqueline’s voice that stands out as most operas cast their sopranos to command. Deborah Nansteel harmonized beautifully and the two sisters were repulsive in the very best theatrical comedic manner.
So often in our customary tale, the evil step-mother is the cause of Cinderella’s distress, in this production however, it the step-father, Don Magnifico*, is brought to life with the comedic genius of Paolo Bordogna. The patter, seemingly impossibly fast words continuing without hesitation by Don Magnifico and the chorus is outlandishness. This production’s charm and warm humor, making us love to hate Cinderella’s selfish step-family. Mr. Bordogna warms the audience with his consistent antics trying to save his collapsing household from financial ruin by marrying one of his wretched daughters off to an implausible prince moving into the neighborhood. Large dancing mute mice that entertain our lonely Angelina, are quiet but integral muse in creating the not so real world of Rossini’s Cinderella.
The Opera performance differs from the fairy tale with the prince pretending to be his valet and the valet having a joyful time pretending to be the prince. The banter between the two men was jovial and both friendly, as the prince is reminded repeatedly how annoying it is to cater to the whims of the rich. The stallion, which the prince rides an animal that has not one, but two heads, rather like the pushmi pullyu from Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Doolittle. Don Ramiro* played by the lovable Maxim Mironov possesses the commanding tenor voice of your leading man coupled with the conviction of greatness of every entitled prince. Dandini, the valet disguised as the prince, is played by the dashing Simore Alberghini takes center stage with his booming baritone voice. The step sisters begin their fall from grace showing their adoration for Dandini, thinking by design that he is the prince. They continue to insult Don Ramiro pretending to be the prince saying how they could never marry such a dull and ugly man. Our sweet Cinderella is in love with what she thought was the valet but turns out to be the prince in disguise.
Alidoro, played by Shenyang, could be considered an equivalent fairy godmother, not in a magical sense, but in telling the prince of Angelena’s clear morals, generosity and manners as opposed to the step-sisters’ desire to land a wealthy catch. He at the production’s inception dressed as a beggar and was fed and attended to by Cinderella, and scorned by the sisters. It is diamond bracelets and not magical glass slippers that are used to identify our Cinderella. She truly falls in love only to tell the prince in disguise that he needs to find her if he truly loves her. It is no wonder men cannot figure out women.
The Ball with its twirling splendor in every Cinderella tale is strangely nowhere to be found. In fact, it appears to be a ball only for our 3 sisters and the chorus of 15 men. However when the prince’s carriage loses a wheel, none of these gentlemen are anywhere in site. The lack of women in this production was peculiar. It is the dream of every little girl to marry their prince, and expectations of that ball are thwarted. As I am sure it was written for few women, it is surprising that it has not been update to be more inclusive to women. Of the 30 persons on stage, 3 sisters and 2 mice (silent) were the only females on stage. However, the delightful conductor of the orchestra, was a feminine joy as Speranza Scappucci elegantly lead this orchestra to one of the most flawless performances I have ever heard. Her command and timing was absolutely flawless.
Stage adorned complicated 2 level castle with grand entrance and stairs, there are plenty of accolades for set and costume designer Joan Font. Clever use of form and function, stairs and shadows, and a pushmepullu horse, the chorus’ costuming was perhaps the largest disappointment. The drab colors and formless shapes of these costumes did nothing enhance the chorus’ character or the production in general.
Overall, you will love seeing the Washington Opera’s performance of Cinderella. It is hilarious, and is not a tale of simply saving the heroine but the justice that the forces of goodness can over power wickedness. The grace of forgiveness being the ultimate gift of charity.
Running Time: approx. 3 hours with a 20 minute intermission.
Cinderella plays through May 21, 2015 at the Washington National Opera performing in The Kennedy Center Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or 1-800-444-1324, or purchase them online.