***RECOMMENDED*** It is always a pleasure to see a more youthful audience arrive as spectators to an opera. At the recent opening matinee of Lyric Opera of Chicago's "Cinderella" (La Cenerentola), many of those in attendance were young children. Lyric has proven that this family-friendly 1817 Rossini work is ideal for any age group. From the lengthy overture all the way throughout until the final happy ending, this opera is a delight. It is nearly as much fun watching the reactions on those children's faces as it is to enjoy the frivolity and endless frolicking taking place upon the stage. Kudos to those parents, as all of the children were well-behaved and remained quiet during the entire performance. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
One reason why this "Cinderella" is so special is because of the genius of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. The famed French opera director studied painting and art history as a young student before he got involved in designing for the stage. Commissioned by the San Francisco Opera in 1969, Ponnelle's version of "Cinderella" remains beloved and it feels as fresh today as it must have over 50 years ago. Ponnelle's approach to any opera, which some considered radical at the time, was to focus exclusively on the score rather than the libretto. In this way, he felt that the music will guide not only the designer but also the director in finding the essence of what the composer intended. Lyric's production honors the man and his legacy by being pure Ponnelle -- not only does it feature his original direction but his scenic and costume designs are both on full display. Sadly, Ponnelle had a much too brief career, passing away at the age of 56 in 1988. But his vision lives on.
There was great anticipation in the casting of this "Cinderella." The excitement surrounds the Lyric debuts of the two principal leads as well as the return of one of the most treasured audience favorites appearing in one of his signature roles.
Russian-born mezzo-soprano Vasilisa Berzhanskaya is a winsome Angelina, mockingly referred to as Cinderella by her step-sisters (whether they are wicked or not is open to interpretation). Berzhanskaya may seem meek and downtrodden in Act I but she blossoms into a rapturous, glowing presence by the conclusion. Her acceptance of those who tyrannized her, and her insistence that she as well as they remain faithful to one another in their newly created family, is powerful stuff for a simple fairy tale.
Matching Berzhanskaya is the very dashing tenor Jack Swanson as Ramiro, a Prince Charming indeed. Swanson is everything that you want in this role -- athletic, energetic and possessing strong vocal skills. Let's hope that we see more of him on Lyric's stage in the future.
Then we have the captivating Italian baritone Alessandro Corbelli, with his tenth role at Lyric, as the hilarious Don Magnifico. Sometimes when you hear stars perform a signature role, it can be disappointing as they can often appear mechanical or as if they were delivering a rote performance. Definitely not the case with Corbelli here. His Don Magnifico is inspired yet wily, and his asides are perfectly timed and hysterically funny.
Rounding out the ensemble are baritone Joshua Hopkins as Dandini, Ramiro's valet and bass-baritone Nicholas Newton as Alidoro, tutor to the prince and initially disguised as a beggar but ultimately revealed to be much more than that. As for those step-sisters, soprano Teresa Castillo as Clorinda and mezzo-soprano Sophia Maekawa as Tisbe are amusing. Thankfully, revival director Gregory A. Fortner has reined in most of their histrionic antics so that their performances are not overly played or exaggerated.
"Cinderella" continues through February 10, 2024
Lyric Opera of Chicago is located at 20 North Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL
Tickets: Please call 312-827-5600 or visit www.lyricopera.org
Remaining performances are:
Tuesday, January 30 at 7:00 PM
Thursday, February 1 at 2:00 PM
Sunday, February 4 at 2:00 PM
Wednesday, February 7 at 2:00 PM
Saturday, February 10 at 7:30 PM
Run time is approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission