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A Rossinian romp

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
04/23/2011 -  and April 28, May 1, 7, 10, 13, 19, 22, 25, 2011
Gioachino Rossini: La Cenerentola
Elizabeth DeShong (Angelina), Lawrence Brownlee (Don Ramiro), Donato DiStefano (Don Magnifico), Ileana Montalbetti (Clorinda), Rihab Chaieb (Tisbe), Brett Polegato (Dandini), Kyle Ketelsen (Alidoro)
Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (Chorus Master), Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Leonardo Vordoni (Conductor)
Joan Font (Director), Joan Guillén (Set and Costume Designer), Albert Faura (Lighting Designer), Xevi Dorca (Choreographer)

One could be forgiven for describing the Canadian Opera Company’s production of La Cenerentola as verminous because six larger-than-life-size rats (Angelina’s friends) are observer/participants throughout the action. Angelina of course is the title character – in English, Cinderella.

The work falls into the category of opera buffa. The approach taken by Joan Font and his production team could almost be called opera buffissima given the exaggerated stylization of set and (especially) costume designs, as well as many directorial choices. Overstating the comedic aspect of a work can actually diminish the enjoyment level; this happens a bit, but not fatally.

The aforementioned rats can be distracting at times, but when they enact the prince’s coach driving through the thunderstorm, the result is both charming and amusing.

The cast ably meets Rossini’s vocal demands. Elizabeth DeShong is a bit overpowered in ensembles, but when the focus is on her she rises to the occasion very nicely, as in the repeated plaintive “Una volta c’era un re”, or when she and the prince – disguised as his own valet – meet and fall in love, and especially in her joyous final rondo. Lawrence Brownlee (in his COC debut) gives ample evidence as to why he is in demand in the bel canto repertory. His boyish sparkle shines through even when costumed in the over-the-top prince’s outfit (see photo above).

Brett Polegato is slyly amusing as the valet who enjoys exploiting his experience as the pretend-prince. Kyle Ketelsen made his COC debut in 1999 as Jake Ashby in La Fanciulla del West; his career has really taken off since then and it’s great to hear a voice of such distinction in a role that can come across as rather stiff.

The roles of Don Magnifico and his two favoured daughters, Clorinda and Tisbe, are the most buffo of the work’s roles. In the context of this production Donato DeStefano comes across as almost understated. His facial expressions are a droll treat. Ileana Montalbetti and Rihab Chaieb revel in their garish getups.

The blue-wigged men's chorus manages a good deal of choreographed movement while maintaining their usual fine sound.

Also debuting locally is conductor Leonardo Vordoni. His approach sounds a bit on the careful side and could use more bite at times. Maybe it will tighten up as the nine-performance schedule proceeds. Rossini’s intricate figurations require a lot of practice. It is significant that successful recordings of the work have been made at the end of a theatrical run.

There’s much to enjoy here. Kids love the rats – and so do many adults.

Michael Johnson



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