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In performance: WCO's "Cenerentola"

Web-only review:

WCO has a ball with "Cenerentola"
by Joan Reinthaler

The acting was so good and the directing so sophisticated that the absence of sets and costumes was never really missed in the Washington Concert Opera's semi-staged production of Rossini's "La Cenerentola" at Lisner Auditorium on Sunday. What was gained, with the orchestra and conductor Anthony Walker on the stage and in full view instead of being hidden away in the pit, was an appreciation of how excellent and very well-rehearsed the orchestra was and how sensitively and dynamically Walker shaped this terrific performance.

This reworking of the Cinderella story combines all the elements that Rossini delighted in and crafted so devastatingly and that this production projected so vividly -- humor and pathos, buffoonery and elegance, and reality clothed in fairy tale. It needs singers, seven of them, who can act and actors whose comfortable idiom is coloratura. It needs balance and a commitment to ensemble, and, most of all, it needs a sense of comic timing. All of this was there in abundance on Sunday, and, along with Walker and his forces, credit must go to stage director Kristine McIntyre.
(read more after the jump)

Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux's coloratura was on blazing display in the role of Angelica, the Cinderella in this version of the story. Armed with a broom (and the only costume change of the whole production -- when she appears at the ball), she evolves from the simple, folk-song-singing servant girl to the passionate bel canto lover with convincing intensity, and she managed, as a straight man among fools, to be the center of attention. Her vocal production comes from far back in the throat, a darker sound, perhaps, than ideal for the character, but the agility and accuracy that kicked in as she romped tirelessly and seemingly effortlessly through Rossini's coloratura minefields was delicious.

Her prince charming was Prince Ramiro, sung by tenor Kenneth Tarver with warmth and quiet power and with a voice that was remarkably consistent throughout its wide range. Whether as the prince himself or impersonating his valet (as he does through much of the opera), Tarver maintained an imposing dignity and a presence in which even a raised eyebrow commanded attention.

With elegance so well attended to by Genaux and Tarver, it fell to the two spoiled sisters, Clorinda and Tisbe and (in this opera) their bumbling and graspingly nasty father, Don Magnifico, to supply the buffoonery. Edwardo Chama's Don Magnifico was a masterpiece of comic timing, the well-placed leer, the double take. His bass-baritone is an agile instrument of many colors and he used his whole arsenal in broad strokes to paint the boorish character he was. The sisters preened and hammed and, as needed, screeched and moaned, but their ensemble was impeccable even as their characters remained unspeakable.

Bass-baritone Daniel Mobbs, as the valet (with a red sash when he was impersonating the prince and a napkin over his arm when he was, himself, the valet), stayed properly just below the prince's vocal horizon, fended off eager sisters with determination and was a convincing go-between as the plot thickened. And Eugene Galvin, who didn't have a lot to sing as Alidoro (this version's fairy godmother), was always felt as a silent presence. Whether at the edge of the stage or when comforting and encouraging Angelica, he carried off the role with dignity and a wry sense of omniscience. The male chorus, stationed behind the orchestra, was ever robust, cheerful and reliable.

--Joan Reinthaler

By Anne Midgette  |  May 11, 2010; 6:15 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews , opera  
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Although it was generally an excellent performance, this listener heard serious intonation and timing problems in the overture and early arias - as if the orchestra was under-rehearsed. I really worried that the performance would fail. Fortunately things got much better as the evening progressed. I agree with the praise given Kristine McIntyre as stage director. The singers' interaction with themselves, the chorus, and even director Walker added greatly to the comedy without distracting from the music.

Posted by: nelson9 | May 11, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Anne: I'm sorry you missed WCO's La Cenerentola last Sunday. Joan's smash review is most welcomed. However, not having a print review does a great disservice to WCO. It is difficult times for arts organizations and we need the public at large to be aware of the wonderful work of the WCO. I know you do not promote our events, but printing a great review alerts the public to this outstanding opera company.

Posted by: DonnieLBryant | May 12, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

I, too, am very sorry that the Washington Post did not print this review. Every year the Washngton Concert Opera provides wonderful evenings of music, often of very unfamiliar operas with great singers. The article on Anthony Walker was a pleasant surprise, but if it had appeared a day or two earlier, it might have brought more people to Cenerentola. This was a performance that would have converted non-opera lovers into attendees. Everyone left laughing.

Posted by: sdharvey | May 13, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand why this review didn't appear in the paper - the Concert Opera is one of the jewels of the city and certainly deserves to get credit for last Sunday's excellent performance. Shame on the Post. Another example of the general dumbing down of the paper.

Posted by: Arlingtonian1 | May 13, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse

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