BWW Reviews: CINDERELLA Steals Hearts in Lyrical Production at Washington National Opera

CINDERELLA wins more than bracelets in Washington National Opera's closing opera of the season. Featuring the auspicious debut of American mezzo soprano Isabel Leonard (2013 Richard Tucker Winner), Rossini's comic and lyrical romantic opera weaves an easy spell. CINDERELLA - "La Cenerentola" - is conducted with skill and precision by Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci, also making her WNO debut.

The role of Isabella (Cinderella) is sung by Leonard on May 13, 16, 19 and 21. Alternating the role with Leonard, is Irish mezzo Tara Erraught, making not only her WNO debut but her first American opera appearance. Erraught is Isabella on May 11, 15, and the matinee on May 17.

Met with cheers and bravas, the mezzo easily won over the audience at her Washington National Opera debut Saturday night. With her rich, warm and expressive voice - not to mention commanding stage presence - Leonard charmed the prince, dazzled with her effortless singing, and was the icing on the cake for an enchanting evening at the opera.

Leonard's voice was made for Gioachino Rossini's bel canto lines and the darker tones written for a mezzo soprano. From the fairy tales and Disney, we know her as Cinderella, but she is Isabella in Rossini's opera, with libretto by Jacopo Ferretti based on the French version of the story by Charles Perrault ("Cendrillon"). Isabella is down to earth, kind, and forgiving - all qualities perfectly suited to a mezzo, especially with beauty, grace and a voice such as Leonard possesses. The young singer is making a name for herself and WNO is lucky to get her on her way up in the opera world.

Isabella's romantic counterpart, the prince charming, is Don Ramiro, sung on Saturday night by Russian tenor Maxim Mironov who certainly won me over with his clear, light voice that matched Leonard for letting the ornamental passages shine throughout the score. Mironov was also convincing as the disguised prince who switches places with his valet to see if a young lady is truly worthy of becoming his princess.

Mironov will be paired with Leonard on all her performances. He will alternate with American tenor David Portillo, who will perform opposite Erraught.

As fans of Rossini's opera are aware, Cinderella has a wicked step father instead of a step mother. The selfish and greedy Don Magnifico keeps his step daughter hidden away as a house maid while his spoiled daughters Clorinda and Tisbe - performed with excellent voice and comic timing by Jacqueline Echols and Deborah Nansteel - rule the roost. On opening night, Italian baritone Paolo Bordogna made the most of Don Magnifico's scenes. Possessing a voice of supple power, Bordogna milked every comic moment from the scene-stealing role, clearly an audience favorite.

Bordogna will perform Don Magnifico again on May 11, 13, 16, 19 and 21. Colombian bass-baritone Valeriano Lanchas takes on the step father's role on May 15 and the May 17 matinee.

The other brilliant musical and comical performance is delivered by Simone Alberghini as the imposter prince and full time valet Dandini. This is one of those roles that cries out for timing and flamboyance as well as the demands of bel canto singing. The Italian bass-baritone hits all marks with skill, grace and a hilarious take on the pretending prince.

Shenyang, another bass-baritone of subtle power and beauty, makes for a striking Alidoro, Don Ramiro's sage tutor who serves as the stand-in for the fairy godmother in other Cinderella stories.

These fine singers are led by the intricate baton of Speranza Scappucci who keeps the tempi moving, the dynamics strong and brings out the best in both the onstage performers and the essential Washington National Opera Orchestra.

This joint production is also strengthened by the magnificent production, directed with flair by the Spanish director Joan Font that would be at home in any classical theatre in the world. Font's set and costume designer Joan Guillen has helped create a storybook world of splashy color and a bold look - the stepsisters' eye-popping and gravity defying wigs, for example - that looks as if a children's playful story has been lifted off the pages. Albert Faura's lighting design is occasionally a little dark, but everything else in in place to bring this tale of wonder and romance and the triumph of goodness to the stage.

Special mentions should be made of the Saturday, May 16 performance which will be simulcast for free to fans at Nationals Park as part of the Opera in the Outfield series. A masterpiece Italian opera in a gorgeous outdoor baseball park sounds like a homerun to me.

~ Follow me @jeffwalker66

Cinderella - Washington National Opera - Opera House, Kennedy Center - May 9-21, 2015

Three hours, with one 20 minute intermission

Tickets start at $25 and are available online, in person at the Kennedy Center Box Office, and by calling (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324. Click HERE .

Cinderella 1 - Isabel Leonard as Angelina (Cinderella).

Cinderella 2 - The company of Cinderella.


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From This Author Jeffrey Walker

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