‘La Cenerentola’ (‘Cinderella’)
By Gioachino Rossini
Presented by Opera Theatre
Fridays, Sept. 15 and 22, 8 p.m.
The United Way auditorium
60 South Fullerton Ave.
By GWEN OREL
When the actors aren’t sure of a line, they sing “something.”
Or, explaining a stand-in prop, “this is a handkerchief.”
The ad libs ring out in the high ceiling of the United Way auditorium.
The cast playing horses that take Cinderella to the ball are wearing their horse head masks for the first time.
Because the eye holes are in the horse nostrils, they hold their heads way up and back, making all the horses look endearingly nearsighted.
One of them places reading glasses over the horse eyes in the mask.
The horses prance to the music, one hop per beat, up the aisle of the United Way auditorium.
Actors not in the scene mimic them.
It’s silly, but right in keeping with Opera Theatre of Montclair, whose 2016 production of “Abduction from the Seraglio” featured a large teddy bear and some not-very-scary pirates.
OTM, incorporated in 2013, held its first fully staged production in 2015.
Wednesday, Aug. 31, was the company’s first day in the space to rehearse “La Cenerentola” (Cinderella), by Gioachino Rossini. The production opens next weekend, and will have four performances, concluding on Friday, Sept. 23.
“Umbrella wheels should be low,” Stage Director Nicholas Tamagna says, coaching the actors holding “wagon wheels,” or twirling umbrellas. “Watch so that you and your neighbor are at the same plane.”
When Cinderella enters the “carriage” — in reality, walking into the crowd of people acting as horses and wheels — she looks out the imaginary windows, and waves her hand like Miss America.
During a break in rehearsal, the horses boogie and dance.
It promises to be particularly silly: Mia Riker-Norrie, OTM’s founder, is playing an evil stepsister — the first time she’s performed with the group.
She’s wearing a hat with rubber chickens on it.
HORSES AND CHICKENS
Joyce Korotkin, set designer for “La Cenerentola,” made the rubber chicken hat. It even has Montclair history: it started its
life in a millinery store on South Park Street. It was adorned with large faux grapes, and the owner John Fidler called it his “Bacchus hat,” Korotkin recalled.
When she needed an outrageous hat for the stepsister, she decided to doctor up this hat, which she’d bought before the store closed in the late ’90s. Then her grandson begged her to take him to the toy store to buy rubber chickens.
What could be more ridiculous? she thought.
And so she adorned the character Thisbe’s hat with tiny rubber chickens.
Korotkin also made the horse masks by doctoring unicorn costume heads. She cut the top of the horns, and put in feathers, giving the horses a very regal look. “It’s pretty difficult to hot glue latex,” she said, adding that this production has a lot of comic antics. What it doesn’t have are a lot of supernatural effects.
“This is an Enlightenment opera. The Enlightenment was involved with reality vs. superstition, science vs. magic.”
“La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo” (Cinderella, or Goodness Triumphant) is based on the Charles Perrault fairy tale. Jacopo Ferretti wrote the libretto to the opera, which was first performed in Rome in 1817.
Korotkin teaches a required-for-all-seventh-graders opera class at Renaissance Middle School. And the kids love it.
There is no magic pumpkin, no mice transformed into horses. There are bracelets instead of a glass slipper. Apparently 18th-century audiences found women’s bare feet a little risqué.
Tamagna said that Rossini was gun-shy about trying for supernatural stage effects because the last opera he’d done that used them received unwanted laughs.
WHERE ARE THEY?
Since the beginning of August, the company had rehearsed in different venues, including venues in New York City.
Tamagna, who directed “Acis,” said that working in spaces without a raised stage made it tricky to visualize where everyone would really be.
Conductor Fernando Palomeque, originally from Argentina and now a resident of Paris, said that he liked the reverberation in the room, although he was a little anxious about how loud the orchestra will sound when it arrives. Last Wednesday, the company was working with a rehearsal pianist.
It’s challenging working with singers who are not always on the stage, Palomeque said. United Way’s auditorium has a charming proscenium stage, which the company uses, but the actors also use the aisles and the area in front of the pit.
“We were talking about how to conduct with my back,” Palomeque said with a laugh.
Nate Mattingly, who sings Don Magnifico, the evil stepfather, on Fridays, said that when you work that way “you can’t lose focus at any point.
“It’s inherently more interesting for the audience. They get to feel like they have more at stake in the story.” Mattingly, who recently moved to Montclair from Texas to study with a voice teacher here, said he enjoys working this way.
“I don’t think most companies would do ‘Cenerentola’ in in-the-round style,” he said.
As always, Opera Theatre of Montclair will have supertitles so the audience can follow along. For “La Cenerentola,” the cards will look as though they are title cards in a silent movie.
Rossini’s music, with its rhythmic dance forms, gave Tamagna the idea. “We are adding physical, sharp gestures and grimaces,” he said. “More and more we go in that direction.”
Alidoro, “a kindly philosopher employed by the prince,” is not really a fairy godfather. He does magic tricks that Tamagna described as “corny and silly.”
Mark Watson, who sings Alidoro on Fridays (as is usual with opera, there are alternating casts), said “Alidoro is not magical.
“But he is fabulous.”
Most of the company, including Riker-Norrie, were not very familiar with Rossini’s opera.
But Cornelia Lotito, an MSU senior who sings Angelina (Cinderella) on Saturdays, said that it is one of her favorite operas
of all time.
“I’m obsessive. I’ve watched it 1,000 times. I’ll probably go home and watch tonight, any version on YouTube.”
Lotito loves the music, which she called “Rossini’s best,” but is also taken by the way Angelina is “such a genuine person.
“For a genuine person to be rewarded in this world, in opera where everything is the opposite of that, and in the end, is so forgiving—”
Lotito broke off, a little choked up.
“Something about that really touches me. Even when she’s being sassy, she’s true to herself. She doesn’t have an angle. She has no angle, she’s just trying to be here.”
“It’s very much happy ever after,” said Riker-Norrie, who said she hopes people will come with their families and talk about the different versions of the story.
“At the very end, when she has a chance to do all sorts of terrible things, she says everything is forgiven. It’s so uplifting. You cannot leave this opera unhappy. It’s just happy.”