The Central City Opera production of Jules Massenet's Cendrillon, or Cinderella, is a visual feast. The costumes of Sara Jean Tosetti — who looks a little witchy herself in her playful program photo — combine charming empire lines with the crooked, cunning shapes we associate with fairy tales. From the John Lennon-style round glasses of the men who come to attire the Ugly Stepsisters (here named Noemie and Dorothee) to the black-and white extravagance of the dresses at the ball and the contrasting blue-green shimmer of Cendrillon's gown, these outfits have both wit and heart. The sets, by Caleb Wertenbaker, are among the most sophisticated I've seen on this stage. Cinderella's home is empty and airy — an arch, two broken archway pieces, a little furniture. The palace ballroom is a miracle of depth and perspective, created by ranks of receding arches. Director Marc Astafan has done his part, too, creating graceful dances and eye-pleasing character groupings. The Fairy Godmother scenes are pure magic, as the slender Heather Buck appears, elegantly draped, on a suspended crescent moon — though I admit I could have done with a little less billowing fabric at ground level. And all these shapes, tones and colors are beautifully coordinated.
None of this would matter, of course, if the music weren't lovely — operatic set pieces, charming melodies, an occasional church chime that echoes Buck's gliding coloratura — and if the voices weren't as gorgeous as the design. Leah Wool makes Cendrillon a far warmer-blooded creature than Disney's blank-faced, artificially feisty Cinderella, and she counters the nineteenth-century sentimentality of the script (in which she's constantly called "poor Cendrillon" and refers to herself as "little cricket") with an earthy and profound capacity for joy. Her rich, full singing voice sounds equally beautiful solo, paired with the fine tenor of Vale Rideout, who plays Prince Charming, or blending with Buck's ethereal notes. And Buck makes such a kindly and observant Godmother, you can't help wishing there were one just like her for every desolate child in the world.
Flanked by her funny, snickering daughters, Maria Zifcak sports all kinds of strut, style and grotesquery as the Wicked Stepmother. She also employs her paradoxically lovely mezzo to truly comic effect. Patrick Carfizzi, who plays Cendrillon's father, is a phenomenal singer; his powerful voice seems to go on and on. Listening, you feel as if you were pushing aside door after heavy door, encountering one capacious room after another, and still there's no end to the vastness. He's also an expressive actor. Holding a glass in one hand and a drooping cigarette in the other, his Pandolfe is as much neurotic dweeb as torn and loving father.
Cendrillon contains a bit more sadness and emotional complexity than you expect from a fairy tale. A suicidal Cinderella? A Prince ready to die of grief? And Pandolfe's longing to escape the seductions of the court for a peaceful pastoral life is touching. There's enough solidity here to prevent the production from flying off into unmoored whimsy, enough humor to offset the pathos, enough style to keep the farcical elements contained. Nothing is overdone, but everything is done fully — and the result is an almost unadulterated delight.
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