The first full weekend of the Fort Worth Opera’s three-part festival is off to a rollicking start. Rossini’s Cinderella was played for all its farcical worth (this ain’t Disney) on Friday night in Bass Performance Hall. Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking makes its local debut on Saturday night, and Bizet’s Carmen follows on Sunday afternoon.
Cinderella and Carmen opened last weekend; all three will be repeated next weekend (May 8-10). Click here for details.
Cinderella (or La Cenerentola if you prefer the original Italian) is a cynical take on the old fairy tale. There’s no wicked stepmother or glass slipper or magical transformations. Instead, there’s a wicked stepfather and two wicked stepsisters — except that they’re such goofuses that it’s hard to stop laughing long enough to work up a decent boo.
The only trace of sentimentality is at the very end, where Cinderella forgives her three tormenters. Possibly Rossini and his librettist, Jacopo Ferretti, put that in as a sop to early-19th-century audiences who might have been expecting something more traditional.
Fort Worth’s cast is strong across the board. Isabel Leonard and Michele Angelini lead the way as Cinderella and her Prince Charming, impressively handling Rossini’s florid vocal lines with voices that are as attractive as they are flexible. By the end your throat begins to feel a sort of sympathetic ache in response to all the musical acrobatics.
Although the two properly dominate, not far behind is the rest of this able cast: Andrew Garland (Dandini), Rod Neiman (Don Magnifico, the stepfather), Brandi Icard and Alissa Anderson (Clorinda and Tisbe, the absurd stepsisters), and Derrick Parker (Alidoro).
The icing on the cake is that they are a stagewise group with a real flair for comedy.
Scott Bergeson conducts a sparkling performance, with able collaboration from the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and the Fort Worth Opera chorus.
Stage director David Gately is awesome. It’s rare that you encounter as thoroughly-thought-out a production as this. The action seems almost choreographed, with numerous details integrated with the music. It must have required unusual rehearsal attention. Although Gately stops short of Three Stooges bonkery, some of the action is kind of silly — but then, Cinderella is a silly opera. And the action is always witty. At one point, Alidoro keeps trying to turn a pumpkin into a coach, and fails, much to the amusement of the audience.
Even Michael Chadwick’s translation of the text — projected, of course — seems a cut above the norm. My favorite line: “You breach the fortress of my heart with double cannons.” This should give you some sense of the attitude of this opera and production.
One suspects that Rossini would have approved of all this. Fort Worth’s printed program includes a reproduction of a painting of Rossini, with the composer smiling. There also exists an early photograph showing him smiling. In how many pre-Civil War portraits do you see the subject with a smile on his face? Rossini had a sense of humor.
The swine-flu scare didn’t seem to have much of an effect on Friday’s audience, which was substantial. It’s a good thing the company wasn’t doing The Barber of Seville; Berta’s sneezes might have sent a few people scurrying for the exits.