Lyric Opera’s CINDERELLA: An Unexpected Joy!

cinda0001Who, other than an eight year old girl and Gioachino Rossini, could have guessed that Cinderella could be so much fun!

Certainly not me.

The Lyric Opera’s production of the  Rossini classic, as produced by the Spanish team of Joan Font, director, Joan Guillen, sets and costumes, Albert Faura, light, and Xevi Dorca, choreography, arrived in Chicago via Rome, Wales, and Houston, fresh, magical, sassy, off-the-wall, funky, hip, and a thorough delight.

Rossini’s finely tuned sense of humor was made manifest beautifully by Barcelona’s Els Comedians’ brilliance, as the company fulfills its mission “to seduce the audience with the magic of normal elements, manipulated poetically.”

Everything is, indeed, a dream. Space continually changes, as light changes the situation. This Cinderella begins her life as a drudge, singing the song of a drudge whose faith and hope lead her to a prince’s love. Talk about post-modern writing!

Apparently Rossini was quite a card.

Even though he completed an average of four operas a year, some in as little as two weeks, he was unbelievably lazy, preferring to compose while lying in bed or chatting with his friends.

According to one legend, Rossini once dropped a piece he was working on, and rather than bend over to pick it up, he simply started over again! When a friend eventually fetched the dropped music for him, he turned it into a completely new composition.

Many of the composer’s signature characteristics dot Cinderella: “Rossini crescendos”, fluid lilting melodies, stunning bel canto coloratura passages, and a “patter baritone,” a man who spits out words at breakneck speed in a hilarious yet impressive display of vocal agility. Rossini, too, was one of the fathers of the frantic Act I finale now common in all types of stage productions.

What is best about this production is that the production team imposes nothing on Rossini. Everything is an imaginative visual extension of what the composer and his genius lyricist, Jacopo Ferretti, do with the text and music.

Opera expert Fred Plotkin has said that the “combination of a sensitive conductor and a capable cast are hard to come by for Rossini operas”. The conducting of Sir Andrew Davis could not be more sensitive, leading the assemblage with equal parts clarity and sparkle. Isabel Leonard, born to play Cinderella,  sings with seeming effortlessness, agility, and elegance. She is more than matched by the Don Ramiro of Lawrence Brownlee. Both “Questo a un nodo auviluppata” and “Non piu mesta” had the audience shouting and cheering. This twosome of Isabel Leonard and Lawrence Brownlee have great careers ahead of them. Chicagoans are fortunate to see them early on.

The whole cast is first rate. Bass-baritone Christopher van Horn returns following his Publio in last year’s La clemenza di Tito to command the stage with his powerful wizard-like Alidoro. A less disciplined performer than Vito Priante might have tried to run off with the show through a bravura performance such as his Dandini. Likewise the two-faced father, Don Magnifico, of baritone Alessandro Corbelli is magnificent. He is perfectly matched by his two neo-harridan daughters, Clorinda (soprano Diana Newman) and Tisbe (mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen).

To top it all off, the production features the most wonderful chorus of non-singing rats and a gloriously funny singing male chorus of bureaucrats.

The Lyric Opera has a wonderful surprise in store for anyone willing to take a chance: a production so good that you too will wonder why the composer abandoned composition at the age of 37.

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