Opening week for the L.A. Opera spanned a large expanse within the repertory, from the monumental rhetoric of the opening-night “Aida” to the incomparable silliness of Rossini’s endearing gloss on the Cinderella legend. For the reborn company under its new leadership, it was a wide stretch, successfully negotiated.
Rossini’s 1817 score was the last of a trio of works that stand at the top of operatic comedy. “The Barber of Seville” may offer more subtlety; “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” more juice. “Cenerentola” tops them both in its quantity of bubbles, most of all its steady stream of chattering patter ensembles. Giacomo Ferretti’s libretto departs from Charles Perrault’s familiar tale; instead of mean stepmother and a fairy godmother with her pumpkins, there is the ludicrous, social-climbing stepfather and the wise philosopher Alidoro to tell the wretched Cinderella “you gotta believe.” Instead of glass slipper, with its inevitable show of ankle that might have enraged Italy’s bluenoses at the time, there is a chaste bracelet, whose jeweled sparkle the music wondrously captures.
It all adds up to pure delight. Music’s latter-day bluenoses might scream “heresy” at Thor Steingraber’s free-wheeling staging, with the meddlesome chorus popping out of closets and from under banquet tables. They might squirm a bit at designer Riccardo Hernandez’s stage sets, which travel through time to join a latter-day chrome-legged kitchen table with Joel Berlin’s pre-Victorian ball gowns nasty sisters. The message here is obviously the timelessness of the Cinderella legend, which shouldn’t need to be driven home — in coach-and-four, pumpkin or SUV — at this late date.
American mezzo Jennifer Larmore has a fair hold these days on the vocal obstacle courses strewn through bel-canto opera; if her Cinderella seems somewhat understocked in the winsomeness department, her technique itself is to marvel at. Vocal honors were shared by baritones Rodney Gilfry (as valet to Prince Charming) and Richard Bernstein (as the philosophic Alidoro), both singers “alumni” of the L.A. Opera’s praiseworthy training program.
Kurt Streit was the Prince, somewhat dry of voice but a worthy conqueror of the vocal dragons that haunt his music. As the stepfather comic bass Simone Alaimo, the evening’s one authentic Italian singer, performed in the old-time authentic Italian manner: lip-smacking, eyeball-rolling, very few of the notes as written. Gabriele Ferro’s conducting — substantial, considerate if a little slack — was also of the old Italian manner, but at least the notes were all there.