The Triumph of the Rodents
11/11/2017 - & November 14, 16*, 18, 2017
Gioachino Rossini: La Cenerentola
Julie Boulianne (Cenerentola), Juan José de León (Don Ramiro), Vito Priante (Dandini), Pietro Spagnoli (Don Magnifico), Lauren Margison (Clorinda), Rose Naggar-Tremblay (Tisbe), Kirk Eichelberger (Alidoro).
Chorus of the Opéra de Montréal & Orchestre Métropolitain, José Manuel Pérez-Sierra (Conductor)
Joan Font (Stage Director), Joan Guillén (Set Designs & Costumes), Albert Faura (Lighting), Xevi Dorca (Choreography), Claude Webster (Chorus Master)
Rossini’s opera is appropriately named La Cenerentola, ossia la bontà in trionfo: Cinderella, or the Triumph of Goodness. Rossini and Jacopo Ferretti, La Cenerentola’s librettist, opt for an Italian realistic view of the fairy tale. Gone are the fairy godmother, the magical transformation, the chimes at midnight and the glass shoe. Instead, it is an avuncular philosopher, Alidoro, who is Cinderella’s benefactor, and a bracelet she gives Prince Charming before leaving his ball that leads to her recognition. Cinderella’s goodness and Alidoro’s astuteness triumph in making the mistreated girl become the Prince’s betrothed. Stage director Joan Font chose to impose on this no-nonsense retelling of the story the supernatural “magical” elements. If the purpose is to enchant children and bemuse spectators who may find the opera boring, it is a laudable venture. However, one wishes for more from a stage director. This superimposed “magical” vision undermines the spirit of the opera and works against its natural lightness. Six giant rats are Cinderella’s apparent pets and serviceable stagehands. The gimmick does amuse at the beginning of the opera, but it becomes distracting throughout the performance. It was somewhat shocking to see Cinderella caress the wretched rodents during her sublime final rondo.
Canadian mezzo, Julie Boulianne, had sung Massenet’s version of the same story, Cendrillon, a few years ago at the Opera de Montréal. She has had an international career since and several in the public were eagerly awaiting the return of the Quebec singer. The timbre is even more beautiful than I recall it in Massenet’s Cendrillon. However, there is substantial weakness in the higher register. The final rondo, “Non più mesta”, was disappointing due to this limitation. American tenor Juan José de León impressed with his agile voice and ease in reaching the Rossinian high notes. However, his tendency to sing his vowels too openly was irritating and at times made his voice sound nasal and quite unprincely. The stars of the show were Italian singers baritone Vito Priante as the Prince’s valet, Dandini, and bass Pietro Spagnoli as the stepfather, Don Magnifico. Despite the staging, they managed to restore to the work some of its true Rossinian spirit thanks to remarkable stage presence, solidly projected voices and a natural gift for humour. Lauren Margison and Rose Naggar-Tremblay were in good voice as the stepsisters and seemed to enjoy themselves. Bass Kirk Eichelberger was vocally inadequate as Alidoro. His Italian diction left much to be desired. Conductor José Manuel Pérez-Sierra led the orchestra with verse showing an affinity to Rossini’s music.
The Prince’s courtiers’ costumes seemed to be based on Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts’s attendants, contributing to a further alienation from Rossini’s realism. Ridicule should be reserved for the bombastic stepfather, Don Magnifico, and the fatuous stepsisters. By having an entire assembly of ridiculous courtiers, the comedy is diluted rather than enhanced. Nonetheless, most costumes were appealing, especially the stepsisters’ dresses. Cinderella’s costume at the ball could have been more glamorous. The lighting was effective and even magical during the scene where Cinderella is transformed to go the Prince’s ball. It was also remarkable to have the Opéra de Montréal do a coproduction with Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Houston Grand Opera and Welsh National Opera. One hopes it is the beginning of further coproductions on such a prestigious scale.
Ossama el Naggar