Cenerentola at Chicago Lyric Opera

Last night we saw the first opera of our 2005-2006 Chicago Lyric Opera subscription: Lyric’s production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella).

It’s been more than 20 years since Cenerentola has been staged at Lyric and that’s odd since it’s been one of the most popular operas in the common repertoire (except for a brief period early in the 20th century) since it premiered in 1817. The production we saw last night was a remounting of the 1973 Ponnelle production from the Teatro alla Scala of Milan.

It’s an effective and lively production. The rather Edward Gorey-esque monochromatic cartoon sets are effective. The more vividly colored costumes of the performers stand out against that background. The moving of the sets behind the curtain during several small scenes was rather more noticeable than, perhaps, it should have been.

Bulgarian mezzo Vesselina Kasarova’s vocal coloring was a bit dark and Slavic for my taste in this opera. Cenerentola is a bel canto opera and an exacting one and Kasarova is just not a bel canto singer, lacking the balance throughout her range and precision required. Her upper register was quite lovely, however, and her performance was, overall, quite good. That’s her in the picture above. I’ve spared you the closeups. Suffice it to say that she looks good on stage.

The Prince, Don Ramiro, was sung by Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez and, in my opinion, his was the standout performance of the evening. He was physically and vocally suited for the role. His singing had both range and control. It’s significantly harder to sing softly than it is to bellow out fortissimo and he handled both skillfully. I had only one tiny, infinitesimal, miniscule quibble with him. He had a characteristic tenor’s performance defect: a tendency to bob onto his toes when he sang his high notes. But, as a tenor myself, I’m hypersensitive about this flaw.

The remainder of the performances were excellent with a remarkable amount of physical comedy (especially for opera and especially for Lyric). The evil stepsisters’ performances appeared to be highly influenced by the noted diva Miss Piggy. Hi-yaaa!

Lyric choruses are frequently notable for their wooden performances. Happily this was not so last night. The chorus had an animated Keystone-Coptic quality that contributed to the overall comedic effect. Very good.

The Roman censors of 1817 were strict: Rossini’s Cinderella is a Cinderella without magic. No singing mice, fairy godmothers, or pumpkins turned into coaches. Not even a glass slipper. We wouldn’t want the showing of an ankle or the tenor touching the foot of the prima donna now, would we? Matching bracelets will do nicely. All of the magic is supplied by two young people in love joined together, virtue triumphant, Rossini’s marvelous music, and the artistry of the performers. It was enough.

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