Gioacchino Rossini’s "La Cenerentola" grew out of a double dare. It was a sort of "I will, if you will" situation. Rossini asked his librettist Giacomo Ferretti if the author had the courage to write a libretto on the Cinderella story. Ferretti responded to the dare by saying that he would take up the challenge if Rossini would agree to write the music. The result at the IU Opera theatre in a production conducted by Imre Pallo is a charming comic opera. Although there is no fairy godmother, magic coach, glass slipper or mice, there’s still the tale of the downtrodden Cinderella triumphing through the wisdom of love.
In the opening night cast Kristen Robinson and Kristen Brouwer were quite a pair of comic monsters as Cinderella’s cruel step sisters. The one believing that she was a great dancer, the other seeing herself as a great beauty and both convinced that they were the most appealing of all women. Benjamin Gelfand was their sympathetic buffoon of a father.
As he did in the "Barber of Seville," in "La Cenerentola" Rossini gave the part of the heroine, Cinderella, to a mezzo instead of the more traditional soprano. Lisa LaFleur was more pathetic than feisty as Cinderella, but her voice more than justified Rossini’s gift. Instead of a fairy godmother, Rossini’s version of the story has a wise counselor Alidoro. John Glann was ever warmly supportive as the thoughtful philosopher.
The special twist of "La Cenerentola"’s comedy is that the Prince Don Ramiro, Brian Stucki, forces his clumsy valet Dandini, Kory Bickel, to switch places with him. With this ruse, the Prince can see if it is love or his position that women are wooed by. The wicked sisters and their father of course fall for the masquerading valet, while Cinderella is struck with the real prince. Stucki was appropriately noble and lovestruck. Bickel was a very comical dervish.
On opening night there were more than a few families and even groups of children. Those around me were remarkable audience members. Although there’s plenty of comedy and the basic story of "La Cenerentola’ is the familiar Cinderella, it is a full blown opera in Italian. Even for adults there could profitably be some cuts. The first act runs an hour and twenty minute and the second a good hour as well.
Vincent Liotta is credited with both stage direction and choreography for "La Cenerentola." It is quite an effort. The show is so intricately worked out, the comedy and the drama so intertwined, that it’s hard to say when direction ends and choreography begins. There are times where the cast simply stand and sing, but they are few and far between. Throughout the IU production of "La Cenerentola" the comic all male chorus made vocal and dramatic contributions. The orchestra followed conductor Imre Pallo through Rossini’s challenging crescendos, decrescendos, breakneck changes in tempo and lovely lyrical moments with substance and grace.
The IU Opera Theatre’s production of Rossini’s Cinderella opera, "La Cenerentola" has its final two performances this Friday and Saturday in the Musical Arts Center at eight. Each evening, there is a talk about the show on the mezzanine at seven.