Review: La Cenerentola (The Canadian Opera Company)

by Melissa Bridges

When I heard that The Canadian Opera Company was producing Gioacchino Rossini’s 1817 comical operatic take on the fairytale Cinderella, La Cenerentola, I was very excited to see the classic tale of love triumphant brought to life. This production is well sung and a colourful spectacle. Although I had a good time watching the performance, I left wishing wishing they had done more with it.

La Cenerentola is based on the 1697 classic tale by Charles Perrault. It tells the story of a girl who is mistreated by her family and with the help of fairy magic sees her dreams come true. Composer Gioacchino Rossini and librettist Giacomo Ferretti made some changes to the original story; the wicked step-mother has been replaced by an abusive step-father and the fairy Godmother is now the philosopher Alidoro.

This production, which comes to the COC from the Houston Grand Opera, reminded me a lot of the popular Disney movie I watched growing up, thanks is large part to Joan Guillén’s bright and energetic set and costumes. The use of vivid colours for the costumes and wigs really helped to emphasize the farcical, and at times almost cartoon-like, characters. This worked especially well against what I found to be a drab, sparse set design.

What didn’t work for me was Joan Font’s direction of the show. He has kept the mice from the Disney tale as Cinderella’s constant companions and with the help of choreographer Xevi Dorca has turned them into acrobatic dancers. While they did manage to provide some of the few laugh-out-loud moments in the production, on the whole I found them extremely distracting.

Rossini’s score is extremely demanding, especially the title role played brilliantly by American Mezzo-Soprano Elizabeth DeShong. Her voice was at once rich and dramatic, yet made the challenging coloratura required in her many arias seem effortless. Tenor Lawrence Brownlee made an excellent Don Ramiro, his stand-out aria in Act 2 brought down the house. Although I thoroughly enjoyed Soprano Ileana Montalbetti and Mezzo-Soprano Rihab Chaieb as the step-sisters, I often had a very difficult time hearing them over the orchestra.

For the most part, I found La Cenerentola was entertaining and amusing. It was long, clocking in at approximately three hours with one intermission and I had wished that they had chosen to make some cuts. Specifically Alidoro’s (played by Bass-Baritone Kyle Ketelesen) boring aria near the end of Act 1. However, if you’re looking for a night of excellent singing, I would make sure you see this before it closes on May 25th.

La Cenerentola is playing at The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West) until May 25, 2011
– Shows times are on specific dates (details available here) and are generally at 7:30PM, except matinees at 2:00PM
– Ticket prices range from $35.03 – $214.70, and rush tickets available at $12 every night at 11:00AM the day of
– Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231

Photo of Rihab Chaieb, Elizabeth DeShong and Ileana Montalbetti by Michael Cooper