Stacey Tappan as Clorinda, left, and Ronnita Nicole Miller as Tisbe, center,… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
The romanticized image Los Angeles Opera is promoting for "Cinderella" shows a pretty princess, a pumpkin-shaped carriage and ample fairy dust. Opera, perhaps, for preteens?
The opera is in fact Rossini's "La Cenerentola," and it advances no fairy godmother, no glass slippers, no gold carriage, no pumpkin. There is no magic whatsoever, just satire and class warfare, which might actually be a better come-on for kids.
And rats. Big ones. They are a special attraction in the production L.A. Opera unveiled at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday night. The audience loved them. Definitely bring the kids.
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The whimsical production L.A. Opera has imported is not new. Joan Font — founder of the zany Barcelona-based collective Comediants — first staged this "Cenerentola" for Houston Grand Opera six years ago. A year later, Font brought the production home to Barcelona, where it was filmed for DVD with a stellar cast headed by Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez. The show has been on the road ever since, if with less starry singers. In January, Seattle Opera presented eight performances of Font's "Cenerentola," before the sets were shipped down the coast.
The production's popularity is not hard to understand, and L.A. Opera has done the right thing by actually having the director and his Spanish team — Joan Guillén (sets and costumes), Albert Faura (lighting) and Xevi Dorca (choreography) — on the premises. Moreover, the company has given the young American mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey an opportunity to shine as Angelina (the name Cinderella goes by in the opera), and she does.
The look is Pop art. Costumes are jokey. Exaggeration on every level is the manner of the day. Cinderella's mean stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, are topped by tall, glowing yellow and orange wigs. The chorus of courtiers sports hair the blue of the ocean off the Santa Monica Pier on a bright summer day.
And then there are those rats (six in L.A.; Barcelona, back before Spain's economy tanked, got eight) — dancers in adorable costumes who function almost as a silent Greek chorus, commenting on the sheer stupidity of humans and the need for subterfuge to achieve even the most basic democratic rights. Rather than turning to the supernatural, Rossini relies on the operatic conventions of disguise to right the wrongs brought on Cinderella and to get her into the arms of her prince.
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Rossini also demands singers who can sing the most amazingly florid lines hour after hour (the first act is 95 minutes alone). Rather than say what needs to be said, characters must beat around a very busy bush and repeat the obvious over and over, often with glibly clever musical silliness. Rossini's genius, though, was to convert glib convention into a kind of ritual that transforms silliness into sincerity. By the evening's end, Angelina is able to wile away many measures of elaborate showy coloratura for the sake of expressing forgiveness. Her goody-goody goodness suddenly makes the world appear, for a forgiving moment, rosy.
This "Cenerentola" does not fully suit the Chandler stage. The minimal set offers too little vocal reinforcement. From the orchestra seats, anyway, the acoustical pop that Rossini needs was lacking.
Still, Lindsey (who sings the role for the first three performances only; Ketevan Kemoklidze takes over the second half of the run) is a mezzo with an agile elegance who made herself heard without undercutting her natural modesty, grace or substance.
Rossini tenors tend to be in a reedy class of their own. Portraying the prince, René Barbera, another emerging young singer, may not yet convey romantic flair onstage. But his voice is nimble, and he has the high notes, and that was what mattered most Saturday.
Alessandro Corbelli hammed up Don Magnifico (Angelina's stepfather, who squandered her inheritance and makes up for it by abusing her and acting the buffoon), and he could have hammed even more and gotten away with it. Vito Priante, a forceful bass-baritone, proved very funny as Dandini, Don Ramiro's servant who masquerades as the prince to discover what is what at Don Magnifico's. Stacey Tappan and Ronnita Nicole Miller were short on attitude at first as the stepsisters, but only at first.
The ensembles in Rossini are killers, and there was a certain amount of first-night walking on eggshells. James Conlon conducted a loving performance and may he now crack the eggshells. Certainly that would be in keeping with the Comediants.
Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, downtown L.A.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 28, April 3 and 13; 4 p.m. March 31; 2 p.m. April 7
Price: $19 to $309
Information: (213) 972-8001 or http://www.laopera.com
Running time: Three hours
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