THE BASICS: Rossini’s complete opera CINDERELLA, fully staged, sung in English with orchestra, presented by Buffalo Opera Unlimited, conducted by Robert Duerr, opened Friday, November 1 and will repeat Sunday, November 3 at 2:30 pm at Rockwell Hall Performing Arts Center on the Buff State Campus, 1300 Elmwood Avenue, 14222 General Admission $30, Seniors $25, Students $10 tickets available at the box office, buffalostatepac.org or by calling 878-3005. Runtime: 2 hours, 45 minutes, with one intermission (snacks and soft drinks available)
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: A fully staged and brilliantly costumed production of Rossini’s comic opera based on the familiar fairy tale, CINDERELLA OR GOODNESS REWARDED, is a bit different from the Disney version, and not only because Rossini did NOT write “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.” In this variation of the fairy tale, set in Salerno, Italy, there is no wicked stepmother, but a clueless and selfish stepfather, Don Magnifico, and there are two demanding stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, more vain and rude than cruel. The Fairy Godmother is replaced by Prince Ramiro’s tutor Alidoro, first seen disguised as a beggar, in a search for a suitable wife for Ramiro. Calling on Magnifico’s house, only Cinderella treats the beggar kindly. Informed of the situation, and wanting to see for himself, Ramiro changes clothes with his valet, Dandini, and, in disguise, pays a visit. While the Don and the stepsisters fawn over the valet, whom they think is the Prince, Cinderella and Ramiro fall in love. There’s more confusion, but things end up pretty much as they did in the 1950 Disney movie. Sung in English (translation by Paul Csonka and Ariane Theslof) there are also projected “supertitles” because sometimes the multiple vocal lines get so complicated. In the lobby afterward, everyone gets a crown-shaped sugar cookie and a photo op with the Princess and the Prince (which several young ladies in the audience enjoyed).
THE PRODUCTION: Following the success of what is today his most famous opera, THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, in 1817, the 25-year-old Rossini and his librettist (think “book and lyrics”0 named Jacopo Ferretti wrote CINDERELLA in about three weeks. Despite the speed at which Rossini composed, the music is stunning, and soon after its premier, and throughout most of the 19th century, CINDERELLA was more popular than THE BARBER OF SEVILLE. Originally scored for the rare contralto female voice, these days it is usually sung by a lyric coloratura mezzo-soprano, such as divas Joyce DiDonato, Elīna Garanča, Jennifer Larmore, and Cecilia Bartoli. With Rossini, as with opera composer Donizetti, amazing vocal agility is an absolute requirement, and everyone on stage delivered, in solos, duets, and even several sextets (take THAT, Donizetti)!
Again, everyone on stage delivered, but the two standouts, as one would hope, aided and abetted by Rossini’s masterful music, were the two leads, Prince Ramiro (Lorenzo Shawn Parnell, the only tenor on stage) and Cinderella (Mariami Bekauri) with an equally powerful and very listenable voice. Let’s be honest. Sometimes sopranos can sound a little screechy, but Bekauri is a mezzo-soprano, with a slightly lower voice, which is often the vocal range of Broadway musical stars.
Speaking of the musical-opera link, Parnell recently brought the house down in the Kavinoky Theatre’s production of the musical HAIRSPRAY where he played “Motormouth Maybelle” in drag using that amazing high tenor voice. If you’re a fan of musicals and have always wanted to go to an opera, this production of CINDERELLA is the one to see.
If you’re a fan of musicals and have always wanted to go to an opera, this production of CINDERELLA is the one to see.
And there are other reasons for that recommendation. This is Artistic Director Tim Kennedy’s 34th season and he knows people. So he recruited conductor Robert Duerr, who has conducted at The Metropolitan Opera (yes, “THE Met”) to brilliantly lead a good-sized pit orchestra of 27 players. (That’s a lot for a local production and with opera, bigger is always better.)
And, Kennedy did something new for BOU, he hired a “Stage Director” which is a big-league move, letting the Conductor focus on the music, while adding a lot of “theatrical” touches to what we in the audience enjoy. The Met hires stage directors all the time and it makes a HUGE difference. Tom Loughlin is a 30-year veteran actor and director who has directed operas elsewhere, and it was the right move. It’s a comic opera, so it should be funny. Just to call out three memorable scenes: there’s a six-person “pinwheel” created during the second act sextet that got a lot of laughs; there was special lighting and action during the storm music when the Prince and his Valet come up from the audience in their search for Cinderella, and there was a lot of theater shtick during the opening chorus scenes.
But there was also nuanced acting which is often not the case in opera and that’s where you need a Stage Director of Loughlin’s skill and experience. That direction wasn’t wasted on either Bekauri who is on stage a lot, nor on baritone David Waterland who really gets into the role of the valet, Dandini. I got to hear Waterland last spring at an OperaBuffs event and it was great to hear him again.
Buffalo favorite, soprano Danielle DiStefano sang Clorinda, a stepsister, and mezzo-soprano Shaya Greathouse sang Tisbe, the other stepsister, while their father, Don Magnifico, was sung by a bass, Tyler Meckleburg. And another bass, Kyle Botsford, was the tutor, Alidoro.
Sung in English, the opera is family-friendly and following the performance, audience members will be treated to crown-shaped cookies and photo opportunities with Cinderella and Prince Ramiro.
The costumes were simply super (and numerous!) and much more “grand” than I expected. Bernadine DeMike must have been up past midnight sewing for months, but it was worth it. The serviceable set (which flips to change from Magnifico’s to Ramiro’s houses) was by David King with effective lighting (somber or joyous as required) was by Harry Mandris, and the Stage Manager, keeping all those moving parts moving at the right time was Sai H. Ceng.
UP NEXT: Want to hear more professional singing? The Metropolitan Opera National Council “Buffalo Toronto District Auditions” presents a showcase of pre-selected professional opera Met-hopefuls singing a wide variety of operatic arias. It’s free ($10 suggested donation) and it’s open to anyone who wants to hear some great singing, from 10am to 5pm at Nichols Schooll. You can come and go as you are able. (Note: you might get to hear the next Renée Fleming because that’s where she got her start.)
Intrigued by live opera? The Metropolitan Opera in NYC broadcasts a number of operas, live in HD, to local movie theaters (2 Regals and 1 Dipson) on select Saturdays at 12:55 pm. Up next Saturday, November 9, live on the big screens, is Puccini’s opera MADAMA BUTTERFLY.
And if you’re interested in the coloratura style you hear in Rossini’s CINDERELLA, you’ll enjoy Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda next spring, on May 9, 2020.
Buffalo Opera Unlimited is also looking ahead to 2020, their 35th Anniversary season with the theme “Strong Women in Opera” presenting Bizet’s CARMEN on May 1st and 3rd, 2020 and next fall Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein’s THE MOTHER OF US ALL (the story of Susan B. Anthony) on October 2nd and 4th. All performances will be at Rockwell Hall Performing Arts Center.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (e.g. you are the parent of someone who is performing), give this concert a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the performance is pretty far off base, or the music itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to hear live music, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good music making. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the performance and the music are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!