‘Rossini’s Cinderella’ draws laughs aplenty at Opera Roanoke

The Opera Roanoke performance combines good singing, gorgeous costumes and hilarity.

Posted: Saturday, March 21, 2015 8:21 pm

On Friday, Opera Roanoke presented the first performance of its new production of Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” at the Shaftman Performance Hall at Jefferson Center.

Although not as well-known as “Il barbiere di Siviglia” (The Barber of Seville), “La Cenerentola” has remained one of Rossini’s most popular comic operas since its first performance in Rome in 1817. The current production combines good singing, effective staging and gorgeous costumes with hilarious verbal, musical and physical comedy.

“La Cenerentola,” billed by the company as “Rossini’s Cinderella,” is an old variation on a familiar tale. There are a few striking differences: Cenerentola has an evil stepfather; she leaves the prince a bracelet and not a slipper; and all magic is trimmed from the plot. Although comic, the story has serious undertones, as Cenerentola must escape from her abusive family.

The production, ably directed by JJ Hudson, kept the serious elements of the opera at bay by emphasizing the villains’ comic potential. Several passages that focused on the villains’ stubborn nature were cut. Clorinda’s aria (often omitted) provided an opportunity for one of the selfish stepsisters to reach a happy ending.

Cenerentola’s stepsisters — played with elegance, vocal ability and excellent timing by Angela Theis (Clorinda) and Kathryn Kelly (Tisbe) — were hilariously selfish, barely able to stop quarreling with each other long enough to hurt the heroine.

Their father, Don Magnifico, was a similarly ludicrous — and hilarious — figure from the start. Donald Hartmann lent a comic gravity to the role, and his agile vocal performance complemented his outstanding ability to make the most out of a single prop.

Zachary James was a striking Alidoro; he dominated several scenes by sheer presence alone, and he sang his Act I aria with pure tone and great verve.

Jonathan Blalock faced the demanding role of Prince Ramiro, and demonstrated his control over Rossini’s florid melodic style in his aria at the start of Act II. Levi Hernandez stole numerous scenes as the Prince’s valet Dandini, combining exuberant physical comedy with great vocal agility and a pure, rich timbre.

Finally, Amanda Crider earned warm applause for her depiction of Cenerentola, a role that grows more challenging throughout the opera, as Cenerentola transforms from a servant girl to a princess. Crider was equally moving in Cenerentola’s opening solo “Una volta c’era un re” and in her final, coloratura aria “Nacqui all’affanno.”

Scott Williamson, artistic director and conductor of Opera Roanoke, led the small orchestra in a lively, nuanced rendition of Rossini’s score. The staging was traditional in the best sense of the word—simple and effective. Sueann Leung’s costumes did not disappoint: Cenerentola had several dramatic costume changes to signal her altered social position, and the evil stepsisters’ headdresses were delightfully whimsical.

The performance attracted a full house and earned warm applause.

Next season Opera Roanoke will perform “Sweeney Todd” (on Halloween) and “La Traviata” (April).

Matthew Franke is a professor at Roanoke College.