The Music Center Opera took a rather wild stab at Rossini's rather tame "La Cenerentola" last month, and the results were not exactly felicitous.
Frank Corsaro staged the delicate dramma giacoso as if it were a cutesy-fussy laff riot, a half-hearted Alice-in-Wonderland dream-play imprisoned somehow within a creaky opera.
The plot was embellished with all manner of extraneous clown characters, and the action was advanced, to no obvious advantage, to the turn of the century.
The aura of ponderous ritual was reinforced, to a degree, by Franco Colavecchia's doll-house decors. Sir Neville Marriner's somewhat symphonic approach to the effervescent score brightened spirits only slightly.
A decent cast worked hard to protect the inherent wit and charm. Nevertheless, the directorial distortions--allied with the distractions of those of the infernal supertitles--proved formidable hurdles.
Now, with financial aid from both city and county, the company has taken its "Cenerentola" on the road. The prime beneficiaries are student audiences and senior citizens. The production, however, has changed drastically.
A new cast now sings the text in an uncredited English version, without the dubious crutch of translations projected above the proscenium. This is "Cinderella," not "Cenerentola."
No international stars illuminate the premises, just talented, attractive youthful members of the resident team. Most of them had served as understudies in the original ensemble.
Corsaro's gags have been mercifully toned down by Chad O'Connor; the gimmickry has been emphatically, and effectively, reduced. Robert Duerr, succeeding the essentially pensive Marriner in the pit, conducts with reasonably propulsive brio.
Even under these potentially helpful conditions, "Cinderella" may not be an ideal opera for the uninitiated. Some 4,000 grade-school natives in the too-vast spaces of Shrine Auditorium grew palpably, increasingly, restless Tuesday morning.
They obviously enjoyed following the story, to a point. But they seemed to resent the fact that the story kept stopping in its tracks so people could just stand around and sing.
It may be significant that, at the curtain calls, the heroine and hero got applauded while the nasty sisters and blustery father got booed. This audience obviously wasn't conscious of the quality of the performers. It was sufficiently involved, however, to differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys, and to take sides.
In the best of all operatic worlds, one suspects, educational matinees might not be devoted to pretty fairy tales. A more compelling vehicle, for instance, might be "Salome." The kids really could relate to all that sex and blood and gore and decadence and perversion. The audience wouldn't have to suspend any grudging disbelief for coloratura waifs or tenorial princes.
The outreach cast for "Cinderella" did its earnest best, of course, to make the waif, the prince and their prefabricated dilemma both credible and creditable. The voices seemed small, and the comprehensibility quotient remained modest. Still, a good deal of Rossini's magic did survive to make it across the footlights.
Stephanie Vlahos introduced a warm-hearted, sympathetic Cinderella with reasonable fioritura facility and rather pallid mezzo-soprano tone. Greg Fedderly brought a handsome presence, a winning smile and a sweet tenorino to the truncated duties of Ramiro.
John Atkins exuded whimsical charm as the valet in prince's clothing and, when the line did not dip too low, sang suavely. As Magnifico, Michael Gallup's crusty buffo authority easily eclipsed the performance of his predecessor in the all-star cast.
Jeralyn Refeld and Michele Henderson did what they could as Cinderella's silly siblings. Peter Atherton attended suavely to the minimal duties left to Alidoro.
The opera, not incidentally, has been cut and streamlined to the point where it lasts a scant hour and a half, accommodating only one five-minute pause. School buses wait for no one.