The gentlemen of the Kentucky Opera Chorus in Goodness Triumphant. Photo: Philip Groshong

La Cenerentola, or Goodness Triumphant

Composed by Gioachino Rossini
Libretto by Jacopo Ferretti
Conducted by Joseph Mechavich
Directed by Brenna Corner

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

La Cenerentola is based upon the oft-told story of Cinderella. Many of us were raised on the Walt Disney adaptation of the story of poor Cinderella who is mistreated by her opportunistic stepmother and step-sisters but through magic and her goodness she overcomes her plight and wins over the prince and they marry. While this version is well known, it is certainly not the only telling of the centuries-old tale of the girl who sweeps the ashes but is then rewarded for her kindness.

This adaptation is slightly different, but it is no less enticing and leaves you with a smile on your face as goodness overcomes all. 

Many of the characters that we have come to know are still present such as the mean step-sisters, Thisbe (Georgia Jacobson) and Clorinda (Victoria Okafor), the hero Prince Don Ramiro (David Walton), and of course, the titular character, who in this adaptation is named Angelina (Taylor Raven). The departure from the familiar is Don Magnifico (Hidenori Inoue) who serves as Angelina’s not-so-nice step-father, Dandini (Armando Contreras), the prince’s faithful valet, and Alidoro (Jason Zacher), the Prince’s tutor and, in this iteration, a narrator of sorts.

A proclamation is shared throughout the land that the Prince is looking to marry the most beautiful woman in the kingdom and will hold a ball at court. Hearing the news Don Magnifico urges his daughters Thisbe and Clorinda to look their best for if one of them were to marry the prince, he would be able to shore up his dwindling fortune. Unbeknownst to all Prince Don Ramiro dresses in his valet Dandini’s clothing and visits Don Magnifico’s house with the invitation whereupon he meets Angelina and they fall in love. When Dandini arrives dressed as the Prince, Don Magnifico and his daughters fawn over him. Overhearing the invitation, Angelina asks Don Magnifico if she can go, to which he refuses. Alidoro comforts Angelina and brings her to the ball.

Written in the style of Opera Buffa, Rossini was a master of matching his music to the antics of what was happening in the libretti and was able to capture the emotions of the moments. Now, in order to portray the characters and emulate the music it requires singers who have the ability to not only sing the arias and recitatives but be able to act. The ensemble brought forth on the Kentucky Opera stage this weekend provided all of those needs and even more. 

There are so many moments in this opera for comedic timing, from the over-the-top behavior of the step-sisters to Dandini’s enjoyment of the brief foray into being a royal. 

Victoria Okafor’s huge voice did overshadow Georgia Jacobson a couple of times during their duets, but when they found the right decibel level, the harmonies, and melodies were pleasing, as were their cry-baby antics. David Walton’s Prince was smooth, inviting, and warm.

Serving as the narrator of the very, very cool prologue, even bringing Conductor Joey Mechavich into the mix, Jason Zacher’s Alidoro was even-keeled and appealing. Of course, you want to not like Don Magnifico, but when you have the talent of Hidenori Inoue portraying him, it makes disliking the character so much fun and intoxicating.

Taylor Raven’s portrayal of Angelina was straight out of every storybook/ beautiful princess that we often want to become. Her poise, timing, and vocal expertise were spot-on throughout the performance. Armando Contreras’ Dandini was so tight and perfect that I could not find any flaw at all.

But believe it or not, perhaps the best comedy and delivery of the evening came from the gentlemen of the Kentucky Opera Chorus, who served as courtiers of Don Ramiro’s court. From their arrival at Magnifico’s house to their decorating and presence at the wedding, this group of men was bubbly, full of vim, and enjoyable to watch and listen to.

I mentioned the prologue earlier and kudos to the brain that came up with the fresh spin offered here. So, what made this different? Two words…Shadow Puppets. Very cool!

Another aspect of presenting a comedy is how one is directed and fortunately, Brenna Corner had this part figured out. From using the chorus for comedic effect to getting the famous dinner scene choreographed as tightly as could be, the choices were well chosen. Now, there were some spots here and there where the tempo of the music didn’t exactly synch up with the actions on the stage, but that’s a minor quibble to what was a very fun evening of opera.

Tonny Fanning’s set design, especially that of Don Magnifico’s dilapidating house, was functional and aesthetically pleasing, as was Connie Yun’s lighting design. Glenn A Breed’s costumes were bright and frilly and fun. I hope that the step-sisters got used to their hoop skirts rather quickly. 

It is hard to believe that it had been 18 years since last we saw Ossia la Bontà in Trionfo and that is far too long. The world could use more Opera Buffa and I hope that we won’t have to wait another 18 years for a journey into this fairy tale.

Bravi Tutti!!

La Cenerentola, or Goodness Triumphant

February 24-26, 2023Kentucky Opera
The Brown Theatre
315 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.