Scene from La Cenerentola
(l-r) Nicole Joanne Brooks (Clorinda), Daniel Thielmann (Dandini), Peter McGillivray (Don Magnifico) and Gena van Oosten (Tisbe) in VO's La Cenerentola. Photo: Tim Matheson

Vancouver Opera’s production of Giacomo Rossini’s La Cenerentola (seen May 1st) hardly put a foot wrong. Perfect casting, insightful yet genuinely funny direction by Rachel Peake, witty acting and above all, brilliant singing throughout added up to nearly three hours of irresistible, effervescent fun.

The opera is centred on the role of Cenerentola (Cinderella) and Simone McIntosh radiated the pure inner beauty of her character without a trace of self-righteousness or superiority. Even if rapidly rattling off the text’s relentlessly repeated fricative sibilants—a device Rossini uses almost to excess—was not her forte, that particular type of vocal virtuosity is not germane to her character. Her opulent, floating mezzo-soprano was perfectly suited to the role’s more quietly loving and sincere passages in the midst of the fractious, comedic ado transpiring all about her.

Main characters of La Cenerentola
Simone McIntosh (Cenerentola) and Tyler Simpson (Alidoro) in VO’s La Cenerentola. Photo: Tim Matheson

Though Cenerentola may be the opera’s lynchpin, her unassailable decentness isn’t the main attraction. No, that would be found in this staging’s supremely entertaining onstage buffoonery.

Pretty well all of the shtick belongs to the rest of the cast, which must possess impeccable comedic timing and style as well as quicksilver voices.  Even the role of Don Magnifico (a buffo bass) needs a voice as nimble as it is muscular and Peter McGillivray was hilarity itself as Cenerentola’s sycophantic, self-serving step-father. He also was physically agile, a decided plus for the slapstick elements of Peake’s direction.

Charles Sy as Don Ramiro (but spending most of the opera disguised as his own valet Dandini) and Daniel Thielmann as Dandini (likewise, spending most of the opera disguised as his master Don Ramiro) milked this made-in-heaven situational comedic set-up for all it was worth. Sy’s tenor is ardent, persuasive and gloriously soaring while Thielmann’s sturdy baritone is also eminently flexible and sonorous.

Tyler Simpson brought an avuncular charm and depth to the role of Alidoro, tutor and confidant to Don Ramiro. But Simpson, with his warm, enveloping bass-baritone, also functioned as a kind of benign father figure to Cenerentola, and their affectionate scenes together were both believable and rather touching.

Nicole Joanne Brooks (Clorinda) and Gena van Oosten (Tisbe) in VO’s La Cenerentola. Photo: Tim Matheson

Last but far from least, probably the most laugh-generating pair in the opera are Clorinda and Tisbe, Cenerentola’s stepsisters. In the original fairytale, they are usually ‘wicked’, but here, they’re just a pair of hopelessly overdressed ditzes with nary a thought for anyone but themselves. Because Nicole Joanne Brooks (Clorinda) and Gena van Oosten (Tisbe) were so convincing in all their mugging, preening, and ‘coy’ flirtation, they remained essentially as likeable as they were amusing. Their light, fleeting voices were perfectly matched.

Sue Bonde’s period costumes were absolutely spot-on, from the straightforward loveliness of Cinderella’s fairy-tale gown for the finale, through the gaudy, deliberately mismatched colours of the stepsisters’ accoutrements, to the sheer elegance of Magnifico and his attendants’ attire. The audience was transported visually back to upper-class, early 19th-century Italian high society in an instant while Daniel Meeker’s sets evoked the same period. This consistency of vision was a huge boost to the success of the whole enterprise.

The Vancouver Opera Chorus—here, a sextet of three tenors and three baritones—played Don Ramiro’s footmen and attendants, and were well-drilled and vocally faultless.

Scene from VO's La Cenerentola.
Scene from VO’s La Cenerentola. Photo: Tim Matheson

Conductor Leslie Dala kept a tight rein on the diminutive 20-member orchestra (including a harpsichordist whose name was omitted from the program) to achieve impeccable ensemble. Yet it wasn’t mere clinical precision: there was also a bracing spirit emanating from the pit which bolstered the onstage high-jinks with unflagging energy right to the final cadence.

The swathes of empty seats, even in the diminutive 668-seat Vancouver Playhouse, were rather disappointing to see, even for a Wednesday night. This is only the second production of La Cenerentola in VO’s 60-year history. Take advantage of its extended nine-performance run (until May 12th) for a terrific night out at the theatre.

La Cenerentola Dinner Scene
Scene from VO’s La Cenerentola. Photo: Tim Matheson

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