Review: LA Opera Tells Cinderella’s Story
By Charlize Althea Garcia, December 7, 2021
After postponing the show for a year due to the pandemic, the Los Angeles Opera performed its fifth program, “La Cenerentola” or “Cinderella,” on November 20.
The LA opera produced a relaxed interpretation. Looking at the transition from act one to act two, it goes without saying that the set design and costumes required a raised eyebrow. Although there were many contemporary elements compiled that strayed from the commonalities, which made it worth seeing.
Making their debut at the LA Opera, Louisa Muller, stage director and costume designer, and Chantal Thomas, stage designer, came out in style.
The sets have been toned down for the extravagant story. However, minimalism wouldn’t be the right term for this. The coloring rightly symbolized the tone of the scene. In the first act, audiences are introduced to drab furniture and drab colors contributing to a gloomy landscape. The use of platforms created a dimension to the intentionally austere home of Don Magnifico. The costumes featured an element of original design. The first act showed Cinderella’s family in 1950s attire while the prince and his courtiers wore clothing from Rossini’s time in the 19th century.
Contrasting with the monotonous color palette, audiences are immersed in scenes of pink in the second act. Muller and Thomas took the phrase “think pink” to a whole new level. With Muller’s staging and Thomas’ design, the all-too-famous story was portrayed in an unprecedented way.
For the prince and Cinderella, mezzo-soprano Serena malfi and tenor Levy Sekgapane made their LA Opera debut with “La Cenerentola”. Malfi’s Cinderella was designed with conviction and confidence even before the bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. Don Ramiro de Sekgapane presented himself as a humble and dignified figure and the performance of these high notes by Rossini was modestly meritorious.
Soprano Erica Petrocelli and mezzo-soprano Gabriela Flores performed a discourteous duo, the two half-sisters, Clorinda and Tisbe. Petrocelli and Flores, playing the typical shallow stepchildren, both played the characters but with a dash of cheeky impertinence. In addition to the duo, Alessandro Corbelli played Don Magnifico, the bad stepfather. Corbelli’s rich baritone voice was rightfully interwoven with his character.
Dandini and Alidoro, the prince’s entourage, were played by veterans of LA Opera, baritone Rodion Pogossov and bass Ildebrando D’Arcangelo. Pogossov extended a comedic charm while D’Arcangelo possessed sophistication.
Below in the orchestra pit, new face Richard Abbado, fervently conducted as if his ancestors were with him. Abbado took us through these famous Rossini crescendos while the orchestra projected its sound throughout the room. “Overture”, the first piece of the composition, was played and conducted with a zeal that left the orchestra untouchable throughout the performance.
“La Cenerentola” was written and composed by Gioachino Rossini alongside librettist Jacopo Ferretti. The story was conceived and ready to be produced in just three weeks. Even if Ferretti was inspired by two recent booklets. Then again, copyright laws weren’t really a thing back then.
“If the shoe fits, wear it.” In this case, the shoe does not fit and the shoe does not exist. There are a few differences in Rossini’s opera from the story audiences have become accustomed to. There are no talking animals, no glass slippers but a modest story about an ordinary girl who falls in love with a prince. The base tale of Cinderella is the foundation for the fair story with the magic removed.
The fairy godmother is replaced by the prince’s guardian, Alidoro, who disguises himself as a homeless man and shows up on the steps of Cinderella’s house. The glass slipper test is replaced by a whole scheme that involves another disguise of Dandini, the prince’s guardian. Composed by the prince himself, the plan was to find a good-humored bride.
A giocoso drama, or joyous drama, the company leaned towards a lighter execution, although some moments were reserved for sheer gravity. Scenes of Tisbe and Clorinda evoked a dry laugh as the chemistry between Don Ramiro and Cinderella left our eyes in wonder.
It’s hard to surprise audiences with such an overused narrative, but LA Opera’s modern approach to “Cinderella” would say otherwise. The unconventional costumes and set design mixed with traditional history created a remarkable production and an unforgettable night.
Image courtesy of Craig T. Matthews of LA Opera.