What, you may ask, would the classic Cinderella tale be without the Fairy Godmother, pumpkin carriage, midnight curfew, and especially, the glass slipper? La Cenerentola, a little more realistic but no less exciting tale as imagined by Italian composer, Rossini who once claimed, “Give me a laundry list and I’ll set it to music!” Rossini and writer Jacopo Ferretti (his first big success) created this dramma giocoso (basically a comedy) at a neck-breaking speed to be premiered on St. Stephen’s Day, January 25th, 1817 at Rome’s Teatro Valle. Feretti completed the libretto in twenty-two days, Rossini the music in twenty-four. Despite a lukewarm reception initially, the opera went on to become one of the biggest successes of both their careers, overshadowing even Rossini’s Barber of Seville, and today, it’s one of Rossini’s most often performed operas. Easy to see why; it’s an indisputable crowd-pleaser.
LA Opera’s Cinderella is a co-production of Dutch National Opera, Grand Théâtre de Genève and Valencia’s Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia. Director and costume designer, Laurent Pelly and Jean-Jacques Delmotte blend mid-century aesthetic with the baroque, demonstrating that the fairytale, with its dysfunctional family dynamic, youthful romanticism, and important values of kindness and forgiveness are indeed timeless. The bane of today’s revivals have often been the contemporization of sets and costumes, sometimes taken to such an extreme as to drain the opera of the opulence one has come to and should expect from them. A cost-saving device, or an attempt at inject a new, artistic vision? Who knows, except that in these desolate times what we need more than ever is color and extravagance, not starkness. Thankfully, in this version, Pelly and Delmotte cleverly fuse periods so that Rossini-era courtiers in large powdered wigs and tailored coats look not a bit incongruous beside pony-tailed girls in puffy 50’s prom attire.
This resplendent cast deserves an ensemble award. The audience was in delighted titters and hoots from the moment mezzo-soprano, Serena Malfi (from a distance, a dead ringer for Bartoli) appeared on stage in her dowdy housemaid’s attire, singing her monotonous lament, Una Volta C’era Un Re, much to the ire of her two stepsisters (narcissistic, but in no way ugly, and played hilariously by Erica Petrocelli as Clorinda and Gabriela Flores as Tisby). One must bow to Malfi’s riveting range and resonance, which made it apparent that the audience was in the presence of a truly great artist. And it’s no exaggeration that baritone, Rodion Pogossov playing Dandini, the dandy valet who switches places with the prince, easily steals the show (the same way that Rory O’Malley did as King George in Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages) and is closely followed by Alessandro Corbelli as the heartless, inebriated stepfather, Don Magnifico.
Los Angeles, slowly emerging from the desolation of COVID and preparing for the holidays, couldn’t ask for better relief, a more season-appropriate show. So do yourselves a favor — dress up festively, step out with your loved ones, and go see Cinderella so you can laugh boisterously (even through the masks) and feel some normal.
— G. Dhalla
Cinderella AKA La Cenerentola is playing at the LA Opera through December 12th, 2021.