Opera Review: LA CENERENTOLA (Pacific Opera Project at The Ford in Los Angeles)

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by Barry Creyton on September 7, 2021

in Theater-Los Angeles

WITTY CENERENTOLA POPS WITH CHARM

After being starved of live opera in Los Angeles for more than a year and a half, there was no better way to celebrate its return to a stage than with the Pacific Opera Project’s splendid production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

Rossini composed the opera when he was 25 years old, and while he completed the work in an astonishing three weeks, it contains some of his finest writing for solo voices and ensembles. The lead role was written not for the expected coloratura soprano, but for a coloratura contralto which gives the heroine an element of strength. However, this breed of soprano became rare and the opera fell out of the repertoire until a revival at Glyndebourne in 1952 gave new life to roles for this kind of Rossini mezzo, and to Cenerentola in particular.

In this variation of the fairy tale, the wicked stepmother is replaced by an equally mean-spirited stepfather, Don Magnifico, the Fairy Godmother is now Alidoro, tutor to the Prince, and Cinderella is found not by an abandoned glass slipper but by a bracelet given her by the Prince while disguised as his valet Dandini. The supernatural elements that traditionally characterize the Cinderella story were expunged from the libretto in its initial 1817 production for ease of staging. One of the joys of this version of the tale is that in spite of the happy-ever-after forgiveness traditionally bestowed by the heroine, the wicked stepfather and sisters remain cantankerous to the bitter end. These amendments in no way diminish the joy of the story; the humor of librettist Jacopo Ferretti shines throughout, and the implicit wit of Rossini’s joyous score elevates the whole.

In the assured hands of director Josh Shaw, the P.O.P production which played August 27, 2021, at The Ford, abounds with humor and inspires laughs while never going over the top. Shaw even alludes to the glass slipper of legend in an interpolated moment which would’ve amused Rossini.

In a perfectly chosen cast, special praise must be given the glorious tenor of Arnold Livingston Geis as the Prince. Geis displays a perfect balance between power and subtlety. He’s matched by a charming performance by Stephanie Doche as Cenerentola whose warm mezzo and impressive range give an intimation of purpose under the fragility of the downtrodden heroine. The sisters Meagan Martin and Chelsea Lehnea are bosom buddies in perfect harmony; Joel Balzun’s socially ambitious Dandini, E. Scott Levin’s comic social climber Don Magnifico, and Andrew Allan Hiers as a wise Alidoro – all complete a universally splendid ensemble, perfectly negotiating the intricate gymnastics of Rossini’s score, aided and abetted by the orchestra under the assured baton of Kristin Roach.

Perhaps the Ford Amphitheatre is a venue best suited to contemporary singers and bands or perhaps wrestling matches or archery contests. Somehow, being in the open air seems to encourage audience members to come and go frequently throughout a performance, to chat to their children, and to eat three course meals — this last a 21st-century audience liberty which I abominate in any theatrical genre, but particularly during an opera.

That off my chest, the evening was one of great delight and another terrific production by Pacific Opera Project.

photos by Martha Benedict

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