Opéra de Montreal 2017-18 Review – La Cenerentola: Solid Cast Creates Memorable Experience With Rossini MasterpieceBy Felicity Davies
I will kick off this review by noting that it was the first time I had ever seen “Cenerentola” and I was charmed. It was a magical evening, with great music, excellent singing and loads of comedy and stage business.
It began with a fine rendering of the overture by the Orchestre Metropolitan conducted by the Spanish conductor Jose Miguel Perez-Sierra. He was fully in charge of the musicians, who played pianissimo or fortissimo, as required. He was also able to balance the strings and the woodwinds and vary the tempi.
Navigating the Plot & Production
The curtain opened to find Cenerentola (Angelina) on stage sweeping the floor surrounded by six life-sized mice. This production re-introduced the magical mice and they not only produced many comedic moments but also silently comforted Angelina in her unhappy times, particularly in Act One. They assisted Alidoro too.
The set for Don Magnifico’s castle was plain but effective. Designer Joan Guillen and lighting designer Albert Faura arranged the lights and set in a way that made it possible to change it effectively and quickly when required.
At the beginning we saw a large walk-in fireplace at stage right, balanced by a staircase at stage left. This led to a balcony that ran right across the stage.
The two sisters, Clorinda and Tisbe soon appeared in tall brightly colored wigs and undergarments. By contrast, Angelina, their stepsister, was not wearing a tall wig and her plain dress was extremely plain in grey and brown. She certainly looked like a servant or housemaid.
Julie Boulianne acted well throughout in the lead role, especially at the very beginning when she projected Angelina’s sadness and loneliness. Her first aria “Una velta c’era un re,” about a King who falls in love and later marries a woman of the common class was sung with sweetness and one could hear the dark undertones in her voice.
We then heard a loud knocking and a beggar appeared. Clorinda and Tisbe try to send him away, but Angelina is kind to him, giving him something to eat and drink.
Courtiers arrive next telling the family that Prince Ramiro will be coming soon. He is looking for the most beautiful woman in the land to take for his bride. Clorinda and Tisbe become excited. The Prince arrives (having changed clothes) with his valet Dandini. He immediately falls for Angelina who he sees is very beautiful and she is attracted to him too.
Ramiro announces the arrival of the Prince who is the real valet. Dandini is dressed as the Prince. The girls are invited to a ball, but Don Magnifico, the father of the girls forbids Angelina from going. She begs to be allowed to go, but Don Magnifico refuses to allow it as he sees Angelina as a servant. Before he leaves, Ramiro notices how poorly Angelina is treated by her family. The beggar returns and asks Don Magnifico about his third daughter. Don Magnifico replies that she is dead and then leaves with his two daughters and Dandini. Alidoro now tells Angelina in an aria that he is the Prince’s tutor. Kirk Eichelberger sang smoothly and his kindness towards Angelina was well projected. He says he will protect her and that she will go to the ball.
The set now rapidly changes as the action moves to the Prince’s palace. A flat sheet with a square design filled the entire back of the stage, which could be lit in different colors such as green and red. Courtiers appeared dressed in gold and red with blue wigs, and there was a splendid tableau.
Don Magnifico is given the job of wine steward and is given a tour of the wine cellar to try and get him to drink too much.
Ramiro is confused after Dandini tells him that Clarinda and Tisbe are somewhat stupid. Alidoro has said that one of Don Magnifico’s daughters is kind and compassionate.
Alidoro announces the entry of a mysterious guest, a veiled Angelina, but even when she removes her veil no one recognizes her. Don Magnifico feels threatened and he and his daughters feel uneasy. They leave and Ramiro enters thinking about the beautiful guest and her resemblance to the woman he met at Don Magnifico’s home earlier that day. Dandini, still dressed as the Prince, enters courting Angelina and even proposes to her, but she isn’t interested. She tells him she is in love with the valet. Ramiro comes out of hiding and Angelina gives him one of her matching bracelets and tells him that if he truly loves her he will find her again.
Don Magnifico, still thinking that Dandini is the Prince, demands that he choose one of his daughters to be his bride. Dandini confesses that he is the valet, not the Prince, but Don Magnifico doesn’t believe him.
The action now moves back to Don Magnifico’s palace where Angelina is as usual dressed in rags and is cleaning and attending to the fire. Don Magnifico demands that she cook supper and as she starts to do this a violent storm starts to rage. Alidoro arrives looking for shelter after the Prince’s coach is overturned. When the Prince arrives he and Angelina immediately recognize one another and the Prince takes out the bracelet that Angelina gave him. He realizes that he has found his true love and they embrace. Don Magnifico, Clorinda and Tisbe are angry and protest. The Prince is about to decree a punishment, but Angelina begs him for mercy for her family and he agrees.
Back at the Prince’s palace, Don Magnifico asks Angelina for her favor. She tells him that her only wish is to be recognized as one of his true daughters. He agrees and they hug. Angelina then asks the Prince to forgive her family. Then she tells them all that her days as their servant are over.
Throughout the opera, Juan Jose de Leon used his big voice to portray exceptionally well all the many feelings such as love, confusion, and irritation that the Prince Ramiro experiences.
Baritone Vito Priante in the role of Dandini was solid throughout and gave an excellent rendition of “Come un ape ne giorni.”
Soprano Lauren Margison and mezzo-soprano Rose Naggar-Tremblay in the roles of Clarinda and Tisbe, respectively, both sang sweetly and very much enhanced the action with their comedic abilities. Pietro Spagnoli, in the role of Don Magnifico, said to be “one of the best baritones of his generation”. He sang and acted solidly throughout. His rendering of “Miei rampolli femminini” takes us through many feelings – including praise for his daughters, criticism when he is awakened from his dream, and grandiosity.
I should not forget to mention the smooth singing from the male chorus – the work of chorus master Claude Webster and the great choreography from Xevi Dorca who made the mice not only dance but perform acrobatics too.
Throughout the production, director Joan Font told the familiar story bringing out the magic of the tale and the differences that Rossini created. Font is a master of stage business and fun too. Right at the end the shiny silver stars falling from above were another special creation and then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, we were back for a moment to see Angelina sweeping again in her rags with the mice for company. It is a special production that will stay in my memory for a long time to come.