Jacopo Ferretti (libretto) and Gioachino Rossini's (composer) re-imagining of the fairy tale La Cenerentola (Cinderella) is a clever and charming take on the original work that's suitable entertainment for the entire family. Apparently, the self-described "jocular drama" was initially met with some hostility when it debuted in 1817, but has gone on to be a very popular piece, adding a number of neat little tweaks to the story, and offering up a wonderful leading part for a coloratura contralto that actually reaches the range of mezzo soprano. Union Avenue Opera's current production is delight, with strong, engaging performances driving this familiar, but reworked classic.
Ferretti varies the traditional tale by changing the gender of the wicked stepmother, who is realized here as a buffoonish and cruel stepfather ironically named Don Magnifico. He also recasts the fairy godmother as the prince's tutor, Alidoro, a philosopher who cases the estate prior to any invitation being sent, and discovers the only kind heart within belongs to that of the beleaguered and beautiful Cenerentola. The prince himself, Ramiro, disguises his own presence by allowing his valet, the goofy and amusing Dandini to switch places with him so that he might better observe the daughters available to him in the Magnifico household. Besides, a fortune is resting on his decision and a wise choice is essential. Naturally, he's smitten (and smitten right back) by Cenerentola. However, Don Magnifico claims he has only two daughters and that the third is dead from a supposed fall. Of course, this is a fairy tale, and all matters pertaining to the heart are worked out satisfactorily.
Abigail Fischer makes for a lovely presence both vocally and physically as Cenerentola, and shares a captivating chemistry with tenor Keith Boyer as Prince Ramiro. Both prove capable of handling the demands of Rossini's score which weaves vocal parts in and out and together in sometimes confusing, but ear-pleasing fashion. Kenneth Mattice plays the part of Dandini, the valet in cahoots with his young master, with a broadness that appeals. Adam Fry is also over the top as Don Magnifico, with his rich bass voice punctuating a number of hilarious punchlines. E. Scott Levin is quite good as Alidoro, who comes to the rescue of Cenerentola, and even sabotages the prince's carriage so that he will realize that the young maiden he was smitten with was actually the same gorgeous and mysterious lady who graced his ball.
Gina Galati (Clorinda) and Kara Cornell (Tisbe) are very good as Magnifico's less than appealing daughters who are determined to wed the young prince, even though neither has the charm or beauty of Cenerentola. Anthony Heinemann, Nathan Ruggles, and Joshua J. Stanton round out the cast nicely as the courtiers who arrive from Prince Ramiro's palace to invite the daughters to the ball, and they get a few bits of comic relief thrown their way as well.
Jolly Stewart's stage direction is handled very well, and the there are a number of funny and tender moments that are played to maximum effect. Elizabeth Hastings conducts the orchestral ensemble with considerable aplomb, making excellent work of Rossini's bouncy and exhilarating score. Patrick Huber contributes a nicely changeable set that doubles for Magnifico's slightly rundown estate and Ramiro's more palatial digs, and he lights it with an equal amount of skill. Michele Friedman Siler provides the costumes, which are good fits for each of the characters.
Union Avenue Opera's production of La Cenerentola (Cinderella) is an enchanting and mirth-filled presentation sure to please audiences, and it continues through August 7, 2011 at the Union Avenue Christian Church.