Yesterday's final performance in the just ended run of CENERENTOLA in Philadelphia was definitely worth the trip and more. The adorable 1950's cartoon-like setting (designs by SANTI CENTINEO) and direction by DAVIDE LIVERMORE have given life and fun to this always wonderful work. The orchestra under the direction of Music Director CORRADO ROVARIS easily made this difficult Rossini work seem fresher than ever, and the superb cast was the creme de la creme we have come to expect from a perfect Rossini cast:
Don Ramiro-LAWRENCE BROWNLEE
Don Magnifico-KEVIN GLAVIN
While I was not thrilled with the video design and projections by MARCO FANTOZZI, they were a novel idea and were enjoyable for the most part.
The left side of the stage had a large curved wall of black & white stripes with four cutout doorways (usually lit in orange). There are two large picture frames one broken over this curved wall the other on the right hanging high and framing one of the three video panels that are above the stage. The rectangular panels have yellow rays thru stripes on them and are often changing depending upon the action below (it is NOT easy to explain this).
At the lower right is a slide on mini 1950's white kitchen fridge,washer and oven/stove. As the curtain rises Cenerentola in a black and white maid's uniform, is chasing a self-propelled upright vacuum across the stage. This vacuum makes regular appearances throughout the performance and is, almost a character in itself. An ironing board is center stage where she stops to iron while her stepsisters in equally ugly yellow and orange terrycloth robes (with tons of curlers in their hair) torment her.
The video panels show Alidoro making some magic with cartoon-like exclamation points and exclamations (think Batman comics!) and entering the house through the doorway below. They then show a parade of cakes as Cenerentola offers him some food before he exits through the fridge. The chorus arrives in white tuxes and the video above shows Cinderella dreaming of a comic-book like officer as they explain the prince's coming.
Once gone, the video shows Magnifico sleeping and he ultimately enters in a black robe with white trim, yellow socks and a short red toupee.
Ramiro comes in disguise as a valet/chauffeur with black pants and a blue jacket with gold epaulettes. With "Un soave non so che" the music got going and we were in tenor/mezzo Rossini blending heaven. The video showed floating clouds, hearts and the suns rays (always keeping in a comic book feel). Even bubbles come out of the washer to impress the moment!
Magnifico reenters in tails with yellow sash and still yellow socks; his pants are way too short.
Dandini is disguised in tails and top hat and is shown on video trying to gain access to the theater out front without a ticket. He has a long straight blond wig (think, oversized Dutch Boy gone formal). The stepsisters are now in bathing suits with flowery matching bathing caps.
I often remark how the character and role of Alidoro can be a bit boring. This was my second time seeing Richard Bernstein in the role which he really gives an uplifting feeling to; it must be noted how he excels at Rossini coloraturo basso music indeed, which is no easy feat for many singers.
Mr. Livermore also gave the stepsisters their usual bitchiness, but also great dance moves and obnoxious sounds to repeat such as overdone giggles and more. I could have done without the Sports Illustrated comic book version of the 1950's bathing suit issue on the video.
The scene ultimately changes and the kitchen appliances disappear as Dandini and Magnifico enter in tennis whites (the latter in shorts) and macthing caps. The stepsisters are now in ugly colored overdone calf-length gowns with gigantic bows at the rear. We can't help missing the gaudy oversized pearl necklaces and bracelets. Ultimately, Mr Glavin gave us a superb "Noi Don Magnifico" is the best of basso style while he sported a tastevin around his neck and red stains on his white tennis polo shirt. The videos portrayed dozens of cartoon wine glasses filling and emptying with red wine, which did get a bit dizzying.
The grand entrance for this Cenerentola to the "ball" is on a motorcycle draped in a bright metallic pants suit with matching topcoat and hood sporting white sunglasses. It was indeed quite hard to recognize her. In her duet with Ramiro, she signs autographs, but here we begin to get the perfection of Rossini tenor music that Lawrence Brownlee excels at. The "Parlar, pensar, vorrei" Act I finale had a bit too much going in the video with comic book machine guns shooting "KABOOMS" through the two cartoon hearts.
Act II had a black curtain with a white middle section at the front of the stage and a large picture frame hanging in front (that is missing a section as the ones in Act I did). Again Mr. Glavin got lots of laughs with the excellent direction during his opening aria. The ensuing "Si ritrovarla" had Mr. Brownlee on a yellow box putting him in the break of the bottom side of the big frame as he belted out his Rossini coloraturo. During the "Giove" lines, the planet Jupiter floated by on the video screen. His slow section melted us all in the audience and he went on to hold "ti stringero" for what seemed like forever. The "Dolce esperanza" cabaletta was no less impressive!
Dandini, now an "ex" Prince enters in yellow pants, red sweater and a yellow and red cap while Magnifico has much the same outfit, but with knickers and those old yellow socks again. Their duet is adorably staged as they speak into two red telephones attached by a cord. It was quite funny when Dandini crossed his legs and Magnifico could not (he is quite large). Mr. Belcher did a super job, which is quite amazing considering he had to cancel two performances last week due to illness. He will always be one of my favorite Rossini baritones as I remember his excellent performances at Wolf Trap some years ago. His bio has him at Figaro in Kansas City & Milwaukee in 2007 (don't miss it if you are nearby!) and BILLY BUDD in Houston the year after!
Meanwhile back at the Magnifico home we have a cartoon storm with lightning and rain on video and the cast running around with umbrellas. Ramiro, now in Navy whites with medals, enters with his entourage. Ms. Donose got the chance to show off in the grand finale, "Nacqui all'afanno...non piu mesta," and excelled beautifully. She has a strong mezzo bottom and uses it well in the Rossini style. Of course, the video has to have a cartoon-like "THE END" as the curtain falls.
I also can't fail to mention the excellent singing from both stepsisters, as I said, this was a superb ACROSS THE BOARD cast and a real treat!
ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC
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