Cinderella is a Triumph at the Lyric

Company of Lyric Opera of Chicago's "Cinderella", Photo: Michael Brosilow
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If you are interested in seeing a young cast of incredibly talented singers at the beginning of their careers so you can one day claim you saw them when, rush down to the Lyric Opera of Chicago for their current production of Rossini’s Cinderella. I was absolutely amazed at the strength of the performances in literally every role in this tight ensemble piece. It can’t be overstated how exceptionally well the entire ensemble works together to create a dynamic and enthralling musical and comedic confection.

It’s a tossup whether the incredible virtuosity of the singing of these difficult pieces or the superb comic chops of everyone in the cast, including the splendid Lyric Opera Men’s chorus, is the best thing about it.  But it really leads with the comedy with the trio of Theresa Castillo making her Lyric debut as Stepsister Clorinda (the dancer), Sophia Maekawa, a first-year mezzo-soprano from the Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center as Stepsister Tisbe (the beauty) and veteran Baritone Alessandro Corbelli as Don Magnifico, the wicked (but mostly vain and greedy) Stepfather. (Corbelli does some of the most strenuous acting and singing in the whole piece.)  All three of them are incredible singers and wonderful alone, but in combination, they keep the audience in stitches.  There is constant stage business, even when they are keeping still so as to not pull focus from other singers.  The girls’ tantrums are epic and they are very, very silly.  And Don Magnifico’s pomposity and vanity is, well, Magnifico.

You also have solid ingenues in the superb Jack Swanson as the incredibly charming Prince Ramiro and Vasilisa Berzhanskaya as Cenerentola.  My one gripe here and among the singers at all is the extreme loss of power in Berzhanskaya’s lower register.  She absolutely slays the extremely difficult runs and vocal ornaments required by Rossini in her higher register and middle voice. Still, she’s pushed her head voice down so low that it basically craps out on her when she’s anywhere below an E or so. She can’t be heard, despite the superb conductor (Lyric debut of Yi-Chen Lin) nearly dropping the orchestra out when she has to go down there. She has lower notes, mezzos have to, but she needs to drop out of head voice to get there and maybe that’s a no-no per her teacher but older opera singers did it all the time and she needs to because she’s inaudible. She absolutely slays otherwise.

As Jacopo Feretti’s book removes all of the supernatural elements from the Cinderella story, it’s up to the guiding hand of the Prince’s old tutor Alidoro (the excellent Nicholas Newton), who we just saw as the father in Hansel and Gretel last year, to get the plot in motion, acting the part of totally non-magical fairy godfather, trying to arrange the Prince’s union with the kind and sweet Cenerentola (Cinderella).  Once they’ve met, Prince Ramiro enters into a deception, having his valet Dandini (excellent and extremely funny baritone Joshua Hopkins, who gets most of the great jokes in the libretto) pretend to be him and conduct a wife job interview with the stepsisters, while Ramiro woos Cenerentola.  Hijinks, oh so many hijinks, ensue to the great delight of everyone in the audience.

While this is full of splendidly executed moments  – standouts include Don Magnifico’s “Sia qualunque delle figlie” Ramiro’s “Si, ritrovarla io giuro” and Cenerentola’s “Nacqui all’affanno … Non più mesta”, it’s almost more the ensemble moments that truly highlight how much of a well-oiled machine this cast is.  Their collaboration is incredible in executing Liceu (Sexteto) and this holds through the entire performance in everything they do.

While this is the current B opera on the stage, unlike so many of the B operas the Lyric has this time not forgotten about it. (The B operas are often very well-sung, but often neglected in other ways.  This one is a revival of the 1969 San Francisco Opera production designed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.  The hand-drawn, very narrow sets allow this B-opera to have a unique look and feel instead of seeming to be an afterthought. It’s deliberately constructed as if the action has stepped out of the pages of a black and white children’s book.

The costumes are completely anachronistic, which adds to the comedy and fantasy of the piece, but the choice of 18th Century for Magnifico and his daughters, perhaps the most over-the-top classical period of fashion, that really amps things up.

I also can’t say enough nice things about the orchestra, under the baton of Yi-Chen Lin skillfully navigated Rossini’s intricate score, but even more accommodated the strengths and weaknesses of the singers.  They truly served the opera as a whole. The seamless coordination between the singers and the orchestra was a testament to the dedication and expertise of everyone involved.

You should absolutely rush right out to see this wonderful production before its gone.  Tickets are available at the Lyric box office.

Photos by Michael Brosilow for the Lyric Opera.

About Suzanne Magnuson 133 Articles
Professional writer with 20 plus years of experience. M.A., M.B.A. Travel Editor and Social Media Manager for Splash Magazines Worldwide. Senior Editor. Member of Advertising Team.

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