W.C. Fields once famously said he wouldn’t work with children or animals. In LA Opera’s lush and creative production of Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola), the fabulous perfectly tuned dancers playing mice, tittering about in almost every scene, clearly compete for top attention getters. The sets are very imaginative and the costumes are fascinating and over the top. (Kudos to Joan Guillen, scenery and costume designer in his LA Opera debut.) The music is sublime (thank you Rossini, James Conlon and the LA Opera Orchestra, as well as all the topnotch singers. There is lots of humor, much of it masterfully comical. Yet, the wonderfully costumed, perfectly choreographed adorable mice were impossible not to watch, as they sniff, scratch, scamper, lounge, roll and sniff about, attentively following Cinderella’s every move like cute puppy dogs,. (Was this director Joan Font’s idea? Whose ever idea it was, it was fulfilled wonderfully by the dancers themselves with help from also LA Opera debut choreographer Xevi Dorca.)
The famous Cinderella tale most Americans are familiar with isfrom the Disney film which includes mice driving Cinderella’s carriage. But the mice are not mentioned in Rossini’s libretto at all. Program notes inform us that Cinderella is an ancient tale which has survived and been altered in different cultures around the world. One of the earliest versions involving a slipper in 9th century China is actually caught up in the cruel misogynistic female foot binding and mutilation. When I was in college there was much talk from the women’s movement of the “Cinderella complex” in which a woman is nothing until she is accepted by a suitable male.
Other versions of the story, including Rossini’s, have no glass slipper and no mice. His story emphasizes the karmic principles: good is ultimately rewarded and evil punished. The poor innocent who is abused by her step-father and step-sisters ultimately gets her reward -- being chosen by a noble prince, partly for her kindness and goodness. Don Ramiro’s (Rene’ Barbera) tutor Alidoro (played by Nicola Ulivieri), who comes dressed as a pauper and later leads Cinderella to the ball while dressed in magician-like cloak with stars. He appears to be an other-worldly character. When he sings about her being accepted by the “highest throne”, he is singing not only of his earthly master, the prince, but also of God’s acceptance of her.
So perhaps you can assume the mice were added in this production because they are part of modern culture’s traditional telling of the tale. Hats off to director Joan Font if it is his idea. The genius of this decision is that their presence is more than a concession. It adds greatly to the opera’s theme, as the mice are Cinderella’s only friends and they come across as protectors and guardians. Their sweetness and guilelessness enhances Cinderella’s own innocence. They are inherently as angelic and pure as Cinderella, who ultimately forgives those who tried to hurt her. (As many pet guardians will attest, their animals have noble and forgiving natures.)
Bel canto opera (Italian operas of the early 1800s) is thrilling. When the performers start pouring out words and syllables so quickly, so perfectly, it is a wonder of technique and beauty. In this production every note is a marvel, especially when the tempo of the singing gets unbelievably fast.
Although there is much comedy here, there are overtones and moralistic meanings that take it away from the addictive fluff that is Barber of Seville. As such the production seems to go in and out of farce. Some scenes are played wonderfully comedic and over-the top and others are more sober. The movement on stage reflected this mixture of styles. The buffo antics onstage in some scenes were a big contrast to other scenes which were perfectly still, as in a drama. It seemed odd to have six characters lined up in a row singing with no movement at all.
I would have liked to see all the stops pulled out on the comedy throughout. Many of the characters had comedic flair, but our heroine, Cinderella herself as played by Kate Lindsey (who alternates the role with Ketevan Kemoklidze) is victimized and noticeably without humor. Her mezzo soprano voice is indeed beautiful and lovely although it is not dynamic. The whole first section of the play seemed a bit tentative until the arrival of Barbera as a disguised Don Ramiro. His wonderfully strong tenor voice lifted the energy and brought more vitality. As the story progresses the energy rises for all characters and it becomes increasingly more engaging. Vito Priante as Dandini plays with great flourish the servant who pretends to be the prince. Father (Alessandro Corbelli) and daughters (Stacey Tappan and Ronnita Nicole Miller) are fun to watch, and more so as their antics seem to get bigger in Act II.
While Lindsey’s Cinderella is a model of virtue, I wonder how it would play to have a heroine who is herself a bit more comically oriented in the role and whose voice stronger.
I can’t say enough about the costumes. The blue, violet yellow and pink wig coifs were remarkable as were the twirly hoop skirts on both men and women. Use of the mice throughout is not only entertaining, but they also help with furniture moving and, brilliantly to move forward the silhouette of the prince’s carriage, in another homage to the traditional story.
Beethoven reportedly told Rossini he should stick to light-hearted comedy as that was his true nature and what he did best. I am a big Rossini fan, and I have to agree with Ludwig that he shines the brightest when all elements work together for the big laugh.
Photos by Robert Milard (LA Opera)
Georja Umano is and actress and animal advocate.
CiNDERELLA by Gioachino Rossin8
Thurs 3/28/13 7:30PM: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Sun 3/31/13 4:00PM: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Wed 4/03/13 7:30PM: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Sun 4/07/13 2:00PM: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Sat 4/13/14 7:30PM: Dorothy Chandler Pavillion