BWW Reviews: A Colorful CINDERELLA Enchants Washington National Opera
There's no glass slipper, no evil stepmother and this Cinderella wants to fall in love not with the prince but with his valet. The finale of Washington National Opera's season, Cinderella, is an enchanting and vibrant retelling of a classic fairy tale with an imaginative twist.
Italian Composer Gioachino Rossini's opera doesn't stray too far from the tale we know and love. His Cinderella, named Angelina (Tara Erraught), is still the lovely girl who tends to her wicked stepsisters and befriends the household mice. The evil stepmother is replaced by her buffoon of a stepfather, ironically named, Don Magnifico (Paolo Bordogna). And yes there is ball. However, in Rossini's version it's a mysterious philosopher and a royal valet, not her fairy godmother, who take an interest in Angelina.
Joan Font's direction gives this production a dream-like quality. It's a natural choice and one that lets the audience escape reality into Angelina's world. There's a seamlessness to the way the production and the story unfolds. The fairytale feel is enhanced by an ever-present sextet of dancers dressed as mice.
Font is aided by Joan Guillén's vibrant Napoleonic era costumes which pop with color against the grayish-white, marble-like set design. A series of powder, royal and navy blues are used in the costumes for the members of the royal court and burgundy, brown and gold are used for the chorus of royal soldiers. He ingeniously uses a vulgar neon-pink and yellow for the wigs and outfits of the stepsisters Clorinda (Jacqueline Echols) and Tisbe (Deborah Nansteel). When the story moves to the prince's castle, Albert Faura's vivid lighting changes the back wall from white to a multitude of colors framed within a series of squares. The intent is to showcase the enormity of the palace and the effect works.
The whole production unfolds like a giant illustrated story book. Because of that quality, Cinderella is the perfect opportunity for families looking to introduce their children to opera.
Rossini's music, conducted with great tact by Speranza Scappucci, is recognized as a masterpiece. The score is praiseworthy for its ability to convey both the humor and heart of the story. It's matched only by Jacopo Ferretti's fine libretto which ensures that the comedy never overtakes the story's moral. This Cinderella doesn't want to marry the prince; she wants a "good and honest man." That might seem like an obvious point, however to hear it so clearly stated gives pause and allows Angelina to capture your heart.
Performance-wise the evening belonged to Erraught, Bordogna and David Portillo as our prince, Don Ramiro. Erraught excelled by bringing sympathy and virtue to the role. At no moment was this more profound than with her Act II aria "Nacqui all'affanno." In this moment of clemency, Erraught extols all the qualities that make her a character worth celebrating.
Part of what makes Cinderella so enchanting is its use of humor. I've literally never laughed as hard or as much at the opera as I did watching Bordogna as Don Magnifico. Bordogna shines mastering the humor in Ferretti's libretto. He becomes an audience favorite with Act I's comedic "Intendente...reggitor" where, believing he is the new royal sommelier, demonstrates his fondness for wine.
David Portillo and Simone Alberghini were delighful as Don Ramiro and his valet Dandini. In a break with the traditional Cinderella fairy tale, the prince and the valet switch identities so as to better observe potential brides. When the rouse is revealed, Portillo is at his best displaying full charm as he searches for the woman who captured his heart with passionate "Si, ritrovarla io guiro."
It's worth noting that Erraught, Portillo and Bordogna do share their roles for Cinderella's two-week run at the Kennedy Center. My colleague Jeff Walker attended Isabel Leonard (Angelina), Maxim Mironov (Don Ramiro) and Valeriano Lanchas' (Don Magnifico) performance over the weekend and his review may be found here.
Rounding out the cast is Shenyang as the philospher Alidoro. His bass-baritone is well suited for Alidoro's divine, supernatural nature. Echols and Nansteel compliment each other perfectly as Angelina's vain stepsisters. Once again, it's Guillen's use of neon color in Ann Ford-Coates' wigs that really sets them apart.
For most of Washington National Opera's season, we've seen the dark side of love. With Florencia it was love lost, in La Boheme we saw young love struggle and then the search for faithful love in The Flying Dutchman. Now in Cinderella we have the tale of a young girl's search for virtuous love. It's an uplifting and perfect note with which to end the season.
If you can't make it to the Kennedy Center Opera House, Cinderella will be simulacast to Nationals Park on Saturday, May 16 for M&M's Opera in the Outfield. It's free to attend and more information can be found here.
Performed in Italian with English subtitles.
Runtime is three hours with one intermission.
Washington National Opera's Cinderella runs thru May 21st at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets, call (202) 416-8000 or purchase them online.
Photo: Tara Erraught as Angelina (Cinderella) and Shenyang (Alidoro). Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO. Credit: Scott Suchman