On select dates through December 12th at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, families can experience a holiday-friendly opera that not only appeals to all ages, but offers meaningful insights into the downsides of being overly prideful, vain, and treating others with less than the respect they deserve. That opera is the renowned fairy tale of “Cinderella” — specifically the Italian version, “La Cenerentola” — composed by Gioachino Rossini and written by Jacopo Ferretti.
Although Rossini’s rendition, which the opera is based on, debuted in 1817, the tale of a woman cast aside by her own family, who ascends the social ranks to become serendipitously linked to a prince or king, is more than 2,000 years old and has been told in one iteration or another around the globe since. LA Opera’s treatment of the Italian source material is pored over with great care and a passionate reverence by director Laurent Pelly, whose performers are clearly having the time of their lives, as well as conductor Roberto Abbado, who ingeniously maneuvers his orchestra around sounds evoking mirth, merriment, calamity, suspense, and ultimately triumph. Chorus director Grant Gershon deserves equal praise for the showing of his choristers, who go above and beyond what they’re charged to do, insofar they come close to stealing the show on occasion.
Additionally, Chantal Thomas’ scenery, modified via platforms that slide to and fro, convey the squalor surrounding Cinderella in her stepfather’s residence as well as the chandelier-sparkling grandeur of the prince’s palace, accented by grandiose hues of pink due to Duane Schuler’s top-tier lighting design. Pelly, who has also been tasked with the costumes, has done a remarkable job of ensuring that his marvels of the stage look appropriately average or resplendently regal and perfect in pink.
The premise has some slight differences from the more commercially known renditions; however, the crux remains the same. It spotlights, of course, Cinderella, who is resigned to an interminable fate of chores in the home of her stepfather, Don Magnifico, who unapologetically favors his other two daughters, the puerile and vapid Clorinda and Tisbe. These two treat an arriving beggar, Alidoro, whom we discover is not impoverished at all but rather Prince Don Ramiro’s tutor in disguise, with gratuitous neglect while Cinderella treats him with kindness. When Ramiro’s courtiers relay that Ramiro is looking for a bride, the stepsisters argue for it like a prize to be won, contemptuously eschewing Cinderella, who subsequently comes face to face with the actual prince disguised as his valet, Dandini, who, in turn, takes delight in playing the prince. In effect, the reversal of roles between Ramiro and Dandini functions as an ultimate test of drawing out the true personalities of the stepsisters and Cinderella, the latter of whom, with her demureness and innocent simplicity, unsurprisingly earns the affections of Prince Ramiro.
The opera, which suitably lacks death and is mostly bereft of painful tragedy, has more laugh-out-loud comedy than most, thanks to Alessandro Corbelli, Erica Petrocelli, and Gabriela Flores, who respectively portray Don Magnifico and his beloved daughters, Clorinda and Tisbe. They are accountable for driving this production right out of the gate, and they do so by acting out their characters beyond what is just on the written page. Petrocelli, a soprano, and Flores, a mezzo-soprano, have some opportunity to shine with their magnificent voices, but mainly connect with the audience by being free and fun with their non-verbal depictions of the petulant sisters, as they have tantrums in stereo, and run irritably around the stage, whining and kicking their beds in uproarious exasperation.
Corbelli, an established baritone in his own right, makes Cinderella’s revenge that much sweeter by similarly giving himself to a persona that can be cruel but is also irredeemably hilarious. Don Magnifico’s introduction to the audience — whereupon he lambastes Clorinda and Tisbe for disturbing his wonderful dream — sets in motion the arc of a foolish and eccentric character who, for all his faults, has several layers and even some likable qualities due to Corbelli’s steadfast commitment.
Another spectacular comedic performance can be attributed to Rodion Pogossov’s portrayal of Dandini, who spends most of the opera pretending to be Prince Ramiro. Clad in the most ostentatious pink garb, and stark makeup blanching his face, Pogossov, a powerful baritone, preens, dances, and cavorts in all his character’s sartorial splendor. The charisma that Pogossov displays as the flamboyant “prince” is worth the price of admission alone. Not to mention, the interplay between Dandini and Levy Sekgapane’s Don Ramiro is highly engaging, especially when Dandini insists on playing up his larger-than-life representation of the prince, who is comparatively much more down to earth.
Sekgapane, who is making his LA Opera debut, reveals himself to be a mainstay tenor for years to come. He not only impeccably communicates Ramiro’s humility and wisdom, but soars wondrously with vocals imbued with a bright timbral pitch reminiscent of Vittorio Grigolo. In the second act, Sekgapane discovers the extra gear he is looking for when reaffirming the love-fueled determination that his Ramiro has for finding Cinderella, who has taken his character’s breath away by mysteriously appearing at the ball after he had initially fallen in love upon meeting her at her most dowdy. Not to be forgotten is Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Alidoro, Don Ramiro’s esteemed tutor, who is as equally compelling as the down-on-his-luck beggar as he is as the tuxedo-adorned version of his persona’s truest self — essentially a guardian-like angel to Cinderella. Suffice it to say, D’Arcangelo is as commanding as ever with his stately bass register.
The titular character is inhabited by another performer new to the LA Opera, Serena Malfi, who likewise proves herself worthy of the part, positioning herself as a top player for years to come. The Mezzo-Soprano, not unlike Sekgapane, exudes the patience and perspicacity of a seasoned performer, allowing her character to beautifully evolve without a misstep, until the final crescendo, delivered in the form of a sage message that transcends notions of mere retribution. Through Malfi’s journey in the role, we sympathize with Cinderella as she makes the best of her misfortune as a seemingly perpetual housekeeper in her stepfather’s home despite being harangued and treated with discourtesy.
The light in Cinderella never dares to flicker, nor does she become consumed with anger even when it might be justified. Instead, she rises on the merits of her unimpeachable demeanor in a story that rightly rewards her good deeds and ends her tragedy. When Malfi exultantly sings about the cessation of her Cinderella’s suffering, who also pleads with the prince to forgive the misdeeds of her family, we are left in awe of a such an enlightened perspective. Cinderella reminds that one can still forgive, releasing the burden of harsh feelings that only weigh down, without forgetting.
Overall, LA Opera’s “Cinderella” is the perfect holiday production, as it is a memorable mix of funny patter, physical humor, and heartwarming moments that unflaggingly sustain the audience’s attention for the three-hour duration. One would be hard-pressed to find an opera that keeps its audience laughing, manages to impress with stellar singing, and also leaves a lasting impression with its higher-minded themes about what true revenge really is.
For more information about the production, please visit laopera.com. Please be aware that, in order to be admitted inside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, one must show proof of full vaccination against Covid-19 (and be at least 14 days out from receiving an approved double-dose or single-dose vaccine) or a negative test within 72 hours of showtime (rapid tests are not allowed).