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New LA Opera Production Reinvents The 'Cinderella' Story

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From the spectral whiteface makeup and the gunmetal cloaks of their sailor suits in "The Flying Dutchman" on Saturday night to the blue hair and sunglasses accompanying their livery outfits in "La Cenerentola" the following afternoon, the distinguished men's chorus of the LA Opera will be sporting a wide array of distinctly whacked-out styles this weekend. But while most of the production choices in "Dutchman" are just weird, designer Joan Guillen's over-the-top costumes seem much more appropriately whimsical for Rossini's take on the classic "Cinderella" fairy tale.

"La Cenerentola" is on exactly no one's list of great opera scores, but it really is pretty funny. Director Joan Font's production is not an argument for the work's reevaluation, but rather a demonstration of how a contemporary aesthetic can invigorate the latent charms of a bel canto showpiece.

Take the rats, for instance. We have no record that Rossini considered including human-size rats in his opera, but Font and choreographer Xevi Dorca give prominent stage time to half a dozen silent dancers dressed up as rodents, with long, pointy carnival masks, who scurry alongside our Cinderella through despair and triumph alike. See this production now and you'll likely never encounter another interpretation of "Cenerentola" again without thinking, "Sure, but where are the rats?"

Of course the whole anarcho-psychedelic spirit of this "Cinderella" story would quickly collapse without the commitment of all the singing performers, and thankfully the whole cast on stage at LA Opera is clearly on board with this production's aims. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsay's performance in the title role on opening night indicated the emergence of a genuine rising star, with a vocal power that never overwhelmed the properly modulated winsome sweetness of her character.

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Stacey Tappan and LA Opera regular Ronnita Nicole Miller don't let their hilarious shock wigs get the best of them as Cinderella's evil stepsisters, and Alessandro Corbelli is nicely buffoonish as Don Magnifico, their evil stepfather (yes). Tenor René Barbera effectively plays the Prince more as a comic than a romantic figure. Vito Priante is brilliantly funny, and in very fine voice, as the servant Dandini who exchanges identities with the prince before and at the ball in order to trick and test the ladies of the land who are angling for a spot on the throne.

More than any of the principal solo arias, the most memorable passages in "La Cenerentola" are some of the duets and the "ensemble" numbers. Dandini's extended revelation of his and the prince's identity ruse, prompting Magnifico's horrified realization that he and his daughters have been buttering up the wrong man the whole time, is played by Corbelli and Priante for all the laughs of a classic comic routine. And both the quintet at the end of Act One, where Magnifico rejects Cinderella's plea to be allowed to attend the prince's ball, and the Act Two sextet, in which all the main characters acknowledge that the whirl of events is just a bit too much for them, are sung entertainingly and with precision.

LA Opera Music Director James Conlon writes in his program notes that he's been waiting his entire career for a second crack at conducting Rossini's "Barber of Seville," and his light, sure touch in "La Cenerentola" right now suggests that we might eagerly share this anticipation with him.

Lindsay sings the title role in LA Opera's "La Cenerentola" tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. before Georgian mezzo Ketevan Kemoklidze takes over for three more performances in April. Tickets start at $19.