|Zen Wu, Melissa Serlluco, Ryan Slone, Jeff Goble, Caroline Tye, Alison Cheeseman, and Hayden DeWitt
When thinking about operatic versions of Cinderella, most people think of Rossini's La Cenerentola. But Massenet's 1899 opera Cendrillon offers many delights, including a luscious score with many fine arias and ensembles and a libretto (by Henri Caïn) that hews more closely to the original Perrault story which was already two centuries old. It can be taken as a tale of a highly dysfunctional family.
Papa Pandolfe (warmly portrayed by Jeff Goble) has taken as his second wife the harridan Madame de la Haltière (the over-the-top Caroline Tye) who has brought with her two spoiled daughters Noémie (Zen Wu) and Dorothée (Melissa Serluco). Pandolfe's daughter Lucette (Alison Cheeseman) is adored by her father, who feels guilty for neglecting her, and barely tolerated by her step-family. This feels so relevant today when "blended families" are quite common.
William Remmers' Utopia Opera operates under a rather unique concept. Audience members vote online for the operas they want to hear the following season. We are consistently amazed by how Maestro Remmers rises to every challenge and comes up with a solution to the problem of combining entertainment and professionalism on a miniscule budget.
Although we always enjoy ourselves and admire the creativity, last night we were wildly impressed by the superlative performances of every performer and the innovative direction of Mr. Remmers who truly knows how to tell a story and to tell it well. We were engrossed and enchanted.
Although there is no scenery and barely any props, the story is told and told well. Costumes are of the "let's put on a show" variety. We imagine cast members rummaging through closets and coming up with something to express the characters they are portraying. Most original of all was the black tie, top hat , white silk scarf, and cigarette holder of The Fairy Godmother. The description sounds odd but, trust us, it worked incredibly well. Her fairy spirits dressed completely in white.
Lucette appears first in dowdy clothes of nondescript color and later in a shimmery garment with sparkly shoes. The henpecked Pandolfe wears a velvet jacket. Member of Lucette's step-family wear lavish ball gowns.
We first saw Cendrillon at the Santa Fe Opera ten years ago in a beautiful Laurent Pelly production with Joyce Di Donato in the title role-- and again two year ago at Juilliard with Julia Bullock. We were delighted both times but there was something about the intimacy of the Utopia Opera production that will stay in our mind.
There are a number of unforgettable scenes that one is not likely to forget! You must see for yourself.
Massenet's music is deliciously romantic; Remmers' 19-member orchestra did the score justice once Mr. Remmers' baton brought them all together and achieved balance between the strings and the winds. We were particularly taken by the English horn solos of Zachary Rosalinsky which accompanied the love duets. The love duet between Pandolfe and Lucette was just as fine as that between her and Prince Charming.
Ms. Cheeseman made a winsome Lucette, one we could care about. We could feel compassion for Mr. Goble's Pandolfe who just made a bad marital decision. We could laugh at the domineering step-mother and the ridiculously entitled and sulky step-sisters. But we were most enthralled by the otherwordly magic of Angela Dinkelman's Fairy Godmother whose costume played so strongly against our expectations. Massenet gave her the best music and she didn't let him down!
Even the chorus was well-rehearsed. The fine direction led to camera-perfect stage pictures such that we have spent hours editing down the multiplicity of shots. And we must mention the fine French diction that was totally understandable. Our companion told us that the titles were down for a period and we never noticed!
If you have been tempted to share our joy by attending, you will find the Lang Recital Hall at Hunter College to have superb sight lines and you will be amazed at the ridiculously low ticket prices. This same cast will perform next Saturday night, with a (likely just as fine) second cast performing tonight and next Friday night. You won't be disappointed!
(c) meche kroop