Allie Altieri, Joseph Parris, Linda Collazo, Shaina Martinez, and Nicholas Huff
Not 5 minutes past the curtain call we wanted to see Pauline Viardot's Cendrillon over again. Where was the repeat button? We relished every moment of this charming work brought to the stage by City Lyric Opera, a most worthy company with high ideals. Helmed by Megan Gillis, CLO aims to provide quality art at affordable prices, providing opportunities for young artists with the aim of diversity and inclusivity.
Career advancement is not easy for female conductors and we were thrilled to see the young rapidly rising Maestro Michelle Rofrano on the podium leading an energetic and light-hearted reading of Pauline Viardot's telling of the Cinderella tale. The chamber orchestra was with her every step of the way. There were the requisite strings augmented by one each of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn. The plangent sound of the harp wove it all together. The melodic score has the flavor of French music hall, which we see as a good thing. Mo. Rofrano played the score as a light-hearted and enchanting bauble.
Onstage, in the role of Marie (Cendrillon) we had the rising star soprano Shaina Martinez who never fails to deliver a carefully thought out performance that somehow manages to appear spontaneous. Her rich voice lends itself to a variety of roles that we have heard her sing and this is just one more feather in her cap. Her Marie was no scullery maid but rather an overlooked member of a detestable family. Her voice conveyed more hope than despair with some winning coloration that made her relatable.
Her two Karens (oops, I meant step-sisters) demanded her help and services. Soprano Allie Altieri as Maguellone and mezzo-soprano Linda Collazo as Armelinde were as fine together as they were separately. Their vocal coloration was exactly the opposite of Ms. Martinez'. Their facial expressions and body language were perfectly emblematic of their characters and absolutely hilarious.
In the role of La Fée we heard the extraordinary crystalline coloratura of Yejin Lee, singing in delightful bel canto style involving stunning fioritura. Le Prince Charmant was sung by Nicholas Huff whose warmth of tone and ardent demeanor had him rise above some staged goofiness. The love duet with Cendrillon was beautifully realized by both artists. As his chamberlain Le Comte Barigoule, we heard tenor Corey Don whose fine voice and figure made it easy to believe the role reversals.
Cendrillon's father is usually portrayed as a henpecked husband who dares to show sympathy for his daughter only behind his wife's back; but in this case he is portrayed as a former dishonest merchant who has risen in status to that of Baron Pictordu. We did not quite catch how that was accomplished but there was a reference in the libretto that must have been a secret joke in Ms. Viardot's circle. The superb bass-baritone Joseph Parrish gave him the attitude of un parvenu and filled out the character with a full rich sound.
This one hour opera was written for Viardot's students when she was rather advanced in years. It was likely performed at one of her salons. None of the sadistic parts of the Perrault fairytale were in evidence, nor any of the Disneyfied padding. This was a simple story of a neglected young woman whose good heart wins the affection of a prince, even though she doesn't know his identity. And it's also the story of a grasping family that has scapegoated her. Her kindness wins out in the end.
Let us not neglect the excellent chorus comprising Luxana Zepeda, Mithuna Sivaraman, Erin Rosales, Brian Jeffers, Ramon Gabriel Tenefrancia, and Nathaniel Mattingly.
The direction by Rose Freeman was right on point, giving everyone a chance to develop a unique character. There were a number of clever devices to enjoy as when La Fée asks Cendrillon to fetch a pumpkin and then to throw it out the window where it becomes a coach--projected on the upstage screen. Similar devices were used for the horses and coachman.
Rhea D'Souza is credited as Projection Designer and we found her projections to be a fine replacement for elaborate sets. We have been annoyed as of late by artsy-fartsy projections that distracted from the singing and staging. Not so here. Every projection set the stage, so to speak, and contributed to the storytelling.
Lina Younes was credited as Scenographer and Lighting Designer was Charlotte McPherson. No one is credited for the costumes but they evinced creativity and wit that exceeded what appeared to have been a modest budget. We were particularly taken with Cendrillon's "slippers"--shocking pink platform boots!
Although there was minimal dialogue in English, the opera was sung in beautiful French, translated by Quentin Bruno and projected onstage so that every member of the audience had a good view.
The only information we are missing is the identity of the orchestrator. The work was written for piano accompaniment; perhaps Ms. Viardot did the orchestration herself. In any case it surely gave Mo. Rofrano some beautiful lines to work with.
In these trying times, light-hearted fun is just what we need. That being said, we would still want to hear this enchanting bauble even in the best of times. What an excellent choice for this company to have made!
© meche kroop