April 29--Laughter reigned at the Benedum Center Saturday night when Pittsburgh Opera presented Giacchino Rossini's "Cinderella" with a marvelous cast and in a sharply characterized production.
The opera is filled with the ebullient music and gorgeous melodies that make Rossini irresistible. It was first seen in 1817, a year after the premiere of "The Barber of Seville."
Jacopo Ferretti's libretto retains the general plot outline of the familiar story: a young woman who will be rescued from an oppressive life with two hostile stepsisters when a prince picks her to be his princess. But this version of the story has a stepfather equally hostile to Cinderella, instead of a wicked stepmother and fairy godmother.
Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, who sang this role with the opera in 2002, enjoyed another triumph as Angelina, Cinderella's name in the telling of the story. Genaux was wonderfully poised singing "Una volta c'era un Re" (Long ago there lived a king), her character's "Someday My Prince Will Come" refrain, which her stepsisters can't stand.
Rossini's music reflects Angelina's blossoming into a princess with ever more brilliant coloratura writing, which Genaux performed with dramatic flair and stunning technique.
Tenor Arthur Espiritu was superb as Don Ramiro, singing with an appealing lyric quality that matches his character's temperament. He first appears having switched roles with his servant, who pretends to be the noble searching for a wife. Espiritu, as the servant, maintained a certain dignity, which of course provides continuity for his character when his true identity is revealed.
Stage director Kristine McIntyre played the comedy to the hilt. The comic characters were all sharply drawn, and McIntyre pulled out all the stops in ensemble work. The opera opens in a domestic scene, with the stepsisters in nightgowns and Don Magnifico, the father, in a night robe. When the male chorus, the prince's servants, enter, they're wearing tuxedos, and when singing, they move together in a parody of 1930s film musicals. McIntyre also manages to throw in a pillow fight near the end of the opera.
Bass Paolo Pecchioli was a hoot as Don Magnifico, a classic Italiano buffo performance worth the price of admission alone. His singing was enlivened with wonderful exaggerations of color and accent that were at one with his incredibly flexible body language. He's a bit fey as well in this version, and hopes at one point the Prince will pick him.
McIntyre often has the comedy openly play to the audience. At one point, Don Magnifico says his words should be in capital letters, then steps forward to check out surtitles above the stage.
Daniel Mobbs also gave an exceptionally well characterized performance as Dandini, Don Ramoro's servant. The bass-baritone captured the servant playing master with perfect moments of misplaced accents and slight awkwardness to balance the assumed grand manner.
Meredith Lustig and Samantha Korbey gave big-league performances at the stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe. They are in the company's resident artists program, and were up to the level of the more experienced members of the cast in coloratura and stage presence.
Antony Walker conducted the opera with good quick tempos and scrupulous balances. Rossini expected his singers to be as agile as instrumentalists, so when Walker's pacing became too quick it affected the articulation of singers and the orchestra alike.
The opera orchestra played superbly. The flair of the violins was a continuing source of energy, while the artistry of the winds and exceptional cleanliness of the brass were gratifying.
The chorus, men only in this opera, sang with its customary excellence. In this production, its members also got to show they're good at song-and-dance routines.
Pittsburgh Opera's production of "Cinderella" will be repeated at 7 p.m. April 30, 8 p.m. May 3 and 2 p.m. May 5 at the Benedum Center, Downtown. Admission is $10.75 to $155.75. Details: 412-456-6666 or pittsburghopera.org.
Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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