|Kristen Leich as Cinderella and Henry Choo as Prince Ramiro|
Small independent opera company CitiOpera's new production of La Cenerentola from director Theresa Borg turned the spacious hall of Hawthorn Arts Centre's detailed Victorian classicism into a party-like atmosphere. Borg not only maintains the manic entertaining sharpness of Rossini's two-act operatic dramma giocoso but recycles the story yet again while turning up the frivolity with a delightfully tacky appeal.
With a party-hat-dressed orchestra, a stage festooned with streamers, balloons and fairly lights, and costumes seemingly inspired by the luridly bright fluorescence of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, set and costume designs by Marc McIntyre dazzle and lighting designer Daniel Jow's restless cocktail of colours is a feastly dramatic knockout. It's all achieved effectively on a shoestring, and lots of plastic, paper and rubber.
Taking the drama off the raised proscenium stage to include entrances up the central aisle and from a small balcony, Borg's utilisation of the hall injects an unstoppable vitality to the pacing.
|Genevieve Dickson, Carolina Biasoli and Adrian McEniery|
Jacopo Ferretti's libretto is sung in Italian and peppered with dialogue in today's English. Despite the royal titles and endearingly fuzzy interpretation on stage, the recycled tale works well. The result is magically applaudable, one where wealth and rank is relative but finding true happiness and escape from persecution is paramount. The bottom line, however, is fun and a zero tolerance for mediocrity is evident.
A splendidly sung and orchestrally rich opening night made certain of that. Occasional loss of projection and imbalances in voice delivery and timing wafted into opening night during ensemble pieces (and a few precarious headpieces and cardboard props wobbled) but the ear was treated to overall beauty.
|Kristen Leich as Cinderella|
It's momentarily uncertain who the guy in the cap and sleeveless padded jacket is when he strays down the central aisle, but he turns out to be part of the cast. In disguise as the valet Dandini, Henry Choo as Prince Ramiro then sets forth with a performance of engaging strength and focus. Young Choo's vocal expertise improves with every new role he tackles and here a personal best seemed on show. An immediate warmth of tone and convincing interpretive attack shone brilliantly in his tenor and, in duet with Leich's Cinderella the pair's chemistry and vocal blending was well-honed. Even their comical dance with golden broomsticks elevated the romance as much as the kiss cementing their union.
Led by a chorus of street sweepers down the central aisle as the disguised "prince", Michael Lampard stepped into his status high position with alacrity as Dandini, his richly burnished baritone impressing while guiding it through momentary insecurities with breathing. Alcohol-fuelled and gladdened by his own skimpy glam-grunge style, Matthew Thomas amusingly strutted on heels all night and sang with no-mess mastery as Alidoro.
|Act 1 scene, La Cenerentola|
Conducting around 20 musicians with celebratory flare, CitiOpera's Artistic Director Trevor Jones dished up Rossini in bucketloads of style. Rossini's recycled overture from his opera La Gazzetta was energised for a magnificent start on opening night and one's attention was easily drawn to the thunderous solid fortes, crispness of tones and thrilling crescendoes throughout. The dancing, textured strings and elegant brass playing were particularly satisfying.
It's CitiOpera's second outing this year at the Hawthorn Arts Centre after presenting a fiery and passionate Cavalleria Rusticana, a sign perhaps that the small independent company's itinerancy will settle there for the medium term. I hope so because it's a fine venue and CitiOpera is looking mighty comfortable in it.
Production Photographs courtesy of CitiOpera