‘La Cenerentola’ (‘Cinderella’)
By Gioachino Rossini
Presented by Opera Theatre
Friday, Sept. 22, 8 p.m.
The United Way auditorium
60 South Fullerton Ave.
By GWEN OREL
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Note: All cast members refer to the Saturday night casts. As is the norm in opera, there are two casts who alternate performances.
There are big smiles in the audience during the Opera Theatre of Montclair production of Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” (“Cinderella”).
Yes, there’s a happy ending coming. And it’s a happy story.
But it’s the sheer silly fun of what OTM has done that puts joy in the air like the aroma of something wonderful baking.
It’s impossible not to smile as the pure sounds of the singers wash over you, after they hit the high ceilings of the United
Way auditorium; or not to feel the excitement as the 20-piece orchestra tunes up, then keeps sweet, rhythmic pace, thanks to the sure conducting of Fernando Palomeque; or to laugh at some of the 1920s silent-movie conventions inventively put in place by Stage Director Nicolas Tamagna.
And then there is the charm of the 20 or so small children sitting on the floor, who can barely contain themselves when the carriage horses enter through the house.
Try not smiling. Your mouth will want to move. Yep, that’s a smile.
This is the way all opera should be: fun, formal (well, semi-), gorgeous, glorious. This is how children should first experience it: there’s no pressure. If they get bored, they can quietly play with their dolls. Playwright George Bernard Shaw learned to love opera by playing on the floor of his family’s box.
And the music is wonderful. Rossini, the composer of “The Barber of Seville,” writes happy, melodic tunes, some with fast patter, many with harmony.
Congratulations to United Way for making its theater available to OTM: it’s the best space so far for the peripatetic opera company.
It’s a minor thing, but it’s also lovely to see homemade baked goods at intermission, and juice boxes for the children. Everything speaks of a production presented with love and care. You’ll have more sheer fun here than at the Met — for one thing, the cast are often right in front of you, hamming it up and delivering those exquisite notes. Hearing an operatic voice come from a person a foot away makes the gift so much more apparent than when it’s high up on a faraway stage. It’s a thrill.
Rossini’s fairy tale here is more a masquerade than a story of magic (there are, in fact, no fairies): the prince (Alexey
Kukharskiy) sends his valet Dandini (Gustavo Morales), disguised as the prince, to the home of Don Magnifico (the evil stepfather, Nate Mattingly) to check out the daughters living there.
We know he’s the “fake prince” because during the overture, the silent film director, who also plays the prince’s tutor Alidoro (Cody Müller), holds signs over their heads: “fake prince,” “real prince.”
Evil stepsisters Clorinda (Mia Riker-Norrie) and Tisbe (Janette Lallier) fawn on the “prince,” and are mean to pure-hearted Cenerentola (Cornelia Lotito).
Alidoro, pretending to be a beggar, meets Cenerentola, who is kind to him.
You know the rest. Rossini was an 18th-century Enlightenment writer, so there is no pumpkin nor mice, and the slipper here is a matching bracelet.
But there is smart, smart whimsy. Tamagna has the “film within a play” organize its film set during the orchestral overture
, so it’s really two overtures at once. Joyce Korotkin’s set design includes a clever antique film camera prop, and plants that come on to signify “castle” just as they did in old movies.
Alidoro (a posturing, smirking, utterly delightful Müller, whose booming bass shocks coming from his slender frame) takes out a tape measure for Cenerentola before whisking her away in his carriage.
“I didn’t expect that,” someone in the audience said quietly.
David Gillam’s costumes included flapper headbands and argyle vests.
The supertitles are projected in a scroll design on the wall.
At one point, Clorinda, played by Riker-Norrie, sings an aria of self-pity, then breaks into a tap dance. This is the first time
that Riker-Norrie, OTM’s founder and general director, has cast herself since the company’s first full production in 2015. We hope she won’t make us wait so long again: her face is perfect for silent movie makeup and mugging, and her voice soars with purity and precision. As Don Magnifico, Mattingly is delicious (if a little young), with a powerful bass-baritone voice. He shines in a drunken self-congratulatory song.
Morales, a baritone, plays a comical Dandini, who is having fun playing “prince.” He also perfectly handles Rossini’s tricky runs.
But without a strong Cinderella the production would falter.
Fortunately Lotito’s sweet face is matched by her clear, strong soprano. You could hear sighs in the audience when she shaped a strong note that lingered.
And then there are those horses, prancing in time, to take the princess to the ball. Just thinking about them raises a smile.
There’s also Alidoro, at the top of Act II, who blows bubbles on the children in the audience, and the cast onstage.
Smiles for everyone. The cast, and everyone else.