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Review: The LA Opera retells the Cinderella story

By Charlize Althea Garcia, Dec. 7, 2021

After postponing the show for a year due to the pandemic, the Los Angeles Opera premiered its fifth program, “La Cenerentola,” or “Cinderella,” on Nov. 20.

The LA Opera produced a relaxed rendition. Upon watching the transition from act one to act two, it’s needless to say that the set design and costumes called for a raised eyebrow. Although, it was compiled of many contemporary elements that strayed away from commonality which made it worth seeing.

Making their LA Opera debut, Louisa Muller, director and costume designer, and Chantal Thomas, scenery designer, went out with a bang.

Sets were toned down for the extravagant story. Although, minimalism wouldn’t be the right term for it. The coloration rightfully symbolized the tone of the scene. In the first act, the audience is introduced to drab pieces of furniture and dull colors contributing to a gloomy scenery. The use of platforms created dimension to the purposely austere home of Don Magnifico. Costumes featured an element of novel design. The first act displayed Cinderella’s family in 50s attire while the prince and his courtiers wore clothing from Rossini’s time, the 19th century.

Contrasting from the monotone color palette, the audience is submerged into scenes of pink in the second act. Muller and Thomas took the phrase “think pink,” to a whole new level. With Muller’s direction and Thomas’ design, the all too well-known story was portrayed in an unparalleled fashion.

For the prince and Cinderella, mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi and tenor Levy Sekgapane made their LA Opera debut with “La Cenerentola.” Malfi’s Cinderella was styled with conviction and confidence even before the bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. Sekgapane’s Don Ramiro posed as a humble and dignified character and the execution of those Rossini high notes were modestly meritorious.

Soprano Erica Petrocelli and mezzo-soprano Gabriela Flores played a discourteous duo, the two stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe. Petrocelli and Flores, playing the typical superficial stepchildren, both embodied the characters but with a sprinkle of brazen sass. Adding to the duo, Alessandro Corbelli played Don Magnifico, the evil stepfather. Corbelli’s rich baritone voice rightfully interwove with his character.

Dandini and Alidoro, the prince’s entourage, were played by LA Opera veterans, baritone Rodion Pogossov and bass Ildebrando D’Arcangelo. Pogossov extended a comical charm while D’Arcangelo possessed sophistication.

Down in the orchestra pit, new face Richard Abbado, conducted with fervor as if his forebears were with him. Abbado took us through those notorious Rossini crescendos while the orchestra projected its sound throughout the room. “Overture,” the first piece of the composition, was played and conducted with ardor that left the orchestra untouchable throughout the show.
“La Cenerentola” was written and composed by Gioachino Rossini alongside librettist Jacopo Ferretti. The story was conceived and ready for production in just three weeks. Albeit Ferretti stole inspiration from two recent librettos. Then again, copyright laws weren’t really a thing back then.

“If the shoe fits, wear it.” In this case, the shoe doesn’t fit nor does the shoe exist. There are a few differences in Rossini’s opera compared to the story that audiences have grown accustomed to. There are no talking animals, no glass slipper but a modest story about a common girl who falls in love with a prince. The basic tale of Cinderella is the foundation of the story just with the magic removed.

The fairy godmother is replaced with the prince’s tutor, Alidoro, who disguises as a homeless man and shows up on the steps of Cinderella’s home. The glass slipper test is replaced by a whole scheme that involves yet another disguise from Dandini, the prince’s tutor. Comprised by the prince himself, the plan was to find a good-natured bride.

A drama giocoso, or cheerful drama, the company leaned toward more of a lighthearted execution, though some moments were reserved for sheer gravitas. Scenes of Tisbe and Clorinda evoked a dry chuckle while the chemistry between Don Ramiro and Cinderella left us starry-eyed.

It’s difficult to give an audience some surprise with such an overused narrative, but the LA Opera’s modern approach to “Cinderella” would say otherwise. The unconventional costumes and set design meshed with the traditional story created a notable production and an unforgettable night.

Featured image courtesy of Craig T. Matthews of the LA Opera.

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