Fathom Events: Met's "La Cenerentola" A Trilling Performance

The Metropolitan Opera's "La Cenerentola"
The Metropolitan Opera HD broadcasts, from Fathom Events to a local theater near you, are winding down for the current season (with some encore presentations over the summer). Whether you’re a Bostonian or a Plymouthian, this is an offer you couldn’t refuse; for less than the cost of an entrée at your favorite restaurant (and equally nutritious, at least for the soul), at a fraction of the cost of the Lincoln Center venue, you have virtually front row seats to one of the world’s most respected opera companies. The HD season ends with Rossini’s “La Cenerentola”, which is much more widely known as Cinderella, but this isn’t the usual Grimm version (or, more precisely, the fairy tale by Charles Perrault that it’s based upon). Since first performed in Rome in 1817, it has been a special favorite of bel canto opera fans. It's arrived with every thrilling trill intact.

Those unfamiliar with the story of Rossini’s heroine may need a brief synopsis to distinguish this version from the more familiar fairy tale. Firstly, our heroine’s real name is Angelina (mezzo Joyce DiDonato), though she’s called Cenerentola by her stepsisters Clorinda (soprano Rachelle Durkin, a riot upon encountering a recalcitrant sofa) and Tisbe (mezzo Patricia Risley). Angelina lives with them in the castle of their father Don Magnifico (baritone Alessandro Corbelli). The tutor of the kingdom’s Prince, the philosopher Alidoro (bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni) arrives, disguised as a beggar, and only Cenerentola gives him food and drink. A bit later, the prince himself, Don Ramiro (tenor Juan Diego Florez), arrives dressed as a servant, to check out prospective brides. His valet, Dandini (baritone Pietro Spagnoli), follows also in disguise (as the prince), whom the rest of the family fawn over. (If you’re keeping score, that’s three characters in varying disguises). The family is all invited to supper at the palace, even Cenerentola, with whom the real prince is smitten. She leaves the palace telling the prince that if he wants her he must find her. Later, during a storm, the prince’s carriage breaks down outside Don Magnifico’s castle, and Cenerentola and the prince reaffirm their love for one another. They are married at the palace, and Cenerentola asks to be acknowledged by Don Magnifico as his daughter. She invites her family to join them in living in the palace, swearing off those days of weeping and sweeping by the fireplace.

There are no mice, no transformed pumpkins, no fairy godmothers, and no glass slippers. (Though there are an angelic tutor, a couple of bracelets, and a levitating elevator). All of the magical elements of the fairy tale are gone, but this surreal, effective production pays homage to Magritte. What magic there is, however, is a great deal of very beautiful (and challenging) music, as sung here by a stellar cast. DiDonato’s Angelina is a special treat from her opening aria (“una volta c’era un rè), to her duet with Diego Florez’s prince (“un soave non so che”). Diego Florez, having missed several previous performances due to illness, is in fine form once again, and deserved the lengthy ovation he received mid-act. The ensemble shone in the sextet, “Siete voi?”, as well as in the final chorus “tutto cangia a poco a poco” about the fact that everything in life changes and that it’s fortune’s little joke to change sadness into joy. Throughout, the Metropolitan’s Orchestra played well under the controlled and balanced direction of Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi. The Production by Cesare Lievi, Set and Costume Design by Maurizio Balò , Stage Direction Eric Einhorn, and Choreography by Daniela Schiavone were all up to the Met’s usual standard, as was the Metropolitan Opera (male) Chorus under their chorus master Donald Palumbo. The production moved briskly, without undue speed, with DiDonato (earlier described by her stepfather as “Venus of the ash can”) summing it up in glorious voice as the triumph of goodness and forgiveness.

The story, despite Rossini’s disdain for the more supernatural aspects of the source material, remains faithful to the legend’s basic charm, with a healthy dose of humor. This production of “La Cenerentola” is a visual delight, ending with the happy couple showered with rice, united atop a huge wedding cake. This was quite appropriate, as there was so much that was worth celebrating.

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