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My apologies, everyone—I misled you just a titch. In last week's Arts Orbit Radar, I wrote that the Minnesota Opera's new production of Gioachino Rossini's Cinderella "is bound to be pure luxury." That's not precisely true. "Pure luxury" would be like a cupcake from Cake Eater Bakery, piled high with sugary frosting. This Cinderella is more like a good cranberry muffin: filling and consistently tasty, with occasional bites of fruitiness dispersed evenly throughout.
Among Rossini's dozens of operas, Cinderella is one of the greats—but some of the things that make it great are downplayed here. There are depths to plumb in the sadistic character of Don Magnifico, father of La Cerentola (Cinderella), but stage director Doug Varone pushes Donato DiStefano toward the lighter comic aspects of the character. Similarly, the prince's valet Dandini might be an almost Iago-like twoface, but when Andrew Wilskowske jumps on a table and starts crowing about how amused he is that the tide has turned, it seems like an offhand observation. As Cinderella, prima diva Roxana Constantinescu sounds her notes with buttery beauty but fails to convey a sense of growing maturity over the course of the play—in fact, she seems to immature from dignified ash-sweeper to gloating princess. Jacopo Ferretti's libretto makes much of La Cenerentola's beautiful innocence, but as soon as she's got her prince Constantinescu starts stroking his hanky and giving him a look that might be familiar to regulars at the Seville.
|cinderella, presented through november 7 at the ordway center for the performing arts. for information and tickets ($20-$200), see mnopera.org.|
In the absence of great drama, we're left with Rossini's sublime music and a sense of generous playfulness. Under Varone's direction, the performers squeeze gentle comic relief out of every last step, and the black-suited men's chorus is an amusingly dynamic part of the action. Typical is the staging of "Si, ritrovarla, io gurio," perhaps the opera's most famous aria. As John Tessier sings, the chorus helps him out of one suit and into another with a series of lifts and switches that had the Tuesday night audience at the Ordway in stitches. Compare this video of Ramón Vargas performing the same aria in 1997 at the Metropolitan Opera: if you've seen the Minnesota production, the Met's fantastic set will make your eyes pop compared to Erhard Rom's simply functional rotating panels—but you'll miss the action. Vargas just stands there and sings. Sure, he sounds great, but what fun is that?
For the most part, the current Minnesota production sounds great too. The aforementioned Constantinescu's singing is one aspect of the show that does live up to my "pure luxury" promise, and the male leads—particularly DiStefano—are strong as well. Rossini's hairpin-turn ensemble writing requires confident direction, and conductor Christopher Franklin keeps the reins admirably tight. Constantinescu is not a belter, though, and her gentle voice was lost when more than one additional performer sang with her; at least, that was the impression from my seat near the right edge of the main floor, a spot generally kinder to the singers than the orchestra.
This is not a definitive Cinderella, but it's certainly an enjoyable one, offering pleasures for opera fans from novices to experts. When the show ended, my friend Nicky exclaimed, "That was the best opera I've ever seen!" It also happened to be the first opera she'd ever seen, but I suspect that thanks to this entertaining production, it won't be her last.