Monday, November 12, 2007

Cenerentola Parmigiana

The verdict on Portland Opera's production of Gioachino Rossini's La Cenerentola?

Pretty much perfect.

The evening got off to a promising start with conductor Christopher Larkin's energetic reading of the overture; the trick to making Rossini's music come alive is to pay extra-careful attention to dynamics, tempi, accents and contrasts; this is music that literally turns on a dime. All night long, the orchestra played with magnificent articulation, flexibility and balance.

The stage direction, by Portland Opera's general director Christopher Mattaliano, was fresh, brilliant, and constantly hilarious. Not a gag fell flat. In between unanimous guffaws, individual chuckles could be heard from audience members who were clearly entranced and delighted.

The men of the Portland Opera chorus are to be congratulated. Though the tenor section wasn't quite up to the demands of Rossini's tessitura, their group energy was palpable as they ran and skipped about the stage in hilarious unity. Their signature entrance -- gaily leaping onto the stage with one arm outstretched and encircling the principals before retreating to formation -- never grew tired. Their purposefully lame choreography was executed with gleeful military precision. (I'm not being misogynistic; there's no women's chorus in Cenerentola.)

The cast of mostly young singers was phenomenal. Portland Opera Studio members Sharin Apostolou and Hannah Sharene Penn as the bitchy stepsisters Clorinda and Tisbe were endearingly obnoxious (they sang well, too). In a weaker cast, Steven Condy as their vulgar jackass of a father, Don Magnifico, might well have stolen the show. His performance was a masterful blend of genuine bel canto buffo singing and comic timing; he understands that the best comic acting is not playing for laughs, but keeping the character deadly serious.

As Alidoro, the prince's wise tutor who takes on the role of the "fairy godmother" in this version, bass Derrick Parker unleashed a sonorous, cavernous tone that soared despite Keller Auditorium's mediocre acoustics. Though the top notes tended to wobble, his tone rings richly, even through impressively agile coloratura.

Morgan Smith's Dandini, I must jealously concede, was pretty awesome. It's a hard role to sing, but you wouldn't know it from the appropriately cavalier way in which he sailed through the coloratura and tossed off countless high F's without a hint of strain or fatigue. It's a pleasant, soft-grained voice that is even-toned throughout, and he was right at home on stage, fully inhabiting the foppish valet without making him nelly.

Somebody should tell tenor Michael Colvin that Prince Ramiro is a hard part. He sang effortlessly through the relentlessly high role, with clean and elegantly phrased coloratura. I guess the high C's in his aria, "Si, ritrovarla, lo giuro" weren't terrifying enough: he tossed in an unwritten high D.

Angela Niederloh's Cenerentola was a triumph; it's just perfect for her. She has a rich, velvety mezzo that soars as easily up to high C as it plunges down into warm chest tones, and the rapid-fire fioritura of the rondo finale "Non piu mesta" held no terrors for her, gleaming high B's and all. She has a stage presence that is as warm as her voice, and her Angelina was perfectly sincere and a touch goofy. The one misstep -- not her fault -- was the gown for the ballroom entrance. She looked like a Victorian dowager at an Ascot funeral. Uuuuggg-ly.

All in all, a deliciously cheesy night at the opera.

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