As May approaches, the Metropolitan Opera will usher out the 2013-14 season with a bang of comic mirth and shimmering vocal fireworks. Its 26th production of the year—a delightful revival of Rossini’s masterful comedy “La Cenerentola”—opened last Monday, led by world-renowned mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. While the performance did take a bit of time to find the right level of energy, the evening eventually accelerated remarkably with one show-stopping number after another.
“La Cenerentola” is Rossini’s take on the classic Cinderella story with only a handful of differences. The title character is still tormented by her self-centered stepsisters, but here she must also face a wicked stepfather. Furthermore, after her greedy siblings make their way to the prince’s palace, the wise fairy godfather Alidoro steps in to guide Cenerentola toward her storybook happy ending. Glass slippers are done away with in favor of diamond bracelets, and slapstick humor continually colors this timeless fairy tale.
In the opera world today, DiDonato is the undeniable reigning queen of the Rossini repertoire. Rossini’s operas feature dazzling displays of vocal virtuosity throughout, and DiDonato brought her characteristic accuracy and creamy tone. With a balance of expansive high notes, brilliant coloratura runs, and long, fluid melodic lines, the mezzo-soprano crafted every phrase with great care. The role includes few standout solo moments, and one could only hope that Rossini had written more music for this stellar prima donna.
Mexican tenor Javier Camarena played Cenerentola’s would-be prince, the ardent Ramiro. Camarena was the perfect match for DiDonato’s excellence, bringing his own exceptional vocalism to the stage. Rossini asks a lot of his tenors, pushing their instruments to the extremes of their ranges, but Camarena’s sound was never harsh or shrill. Instead, he delivered a portrayal characterized by winning enthusiasm and superior musicianship. His second-act aria, “Si, ritrovarla io giuro,” deservedly received a thunderous ovation.
As the ladder-climbing stepfather Don Magnifico, veteran baritone Alessandro Corbelli showed off his command of the music with a wowing performance. The part calls for many passages of challenging patter-singing—rapidly singing many syllables in quick rhythms—but Corbelli dashed off each section with astounding aplomb. Similarly, Met debutant Pietro Spagnoli offered a robust voice and secure technique as Ramiro’s outlandish valet, Dandini.
Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni brought a rich timbre and dignified demeanor as Cenerentola’s magical savior, while Rachelle Durkin and Patricia Risley were appropriately buffoonish as Cenerentola’s stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe.
Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi led a tight, if conventional, performance of Rossini’s lighthearted score. The maestro and his cast truly excelled during controlled ensemble work, when voices and orchestra blended to create enchanting results.
It is difficult to pull off farce effectively, but for the most part, this cast was successful. At times, the comedy was heavy-handed, and some performers were inclined to mug for laughs, but overall, the evening managed to thoroughly entertain. With final exams on the horizon, Columbia students may hesitate to sacrifice precious study time to attend an opera, but this run is certainly worth the night off. Not only will you hear some of the world’s best singers, but this exuberant romp will also give you the boost of energy necessary to successfully finish out the semester.
Performances of “La Cenerentola” run through May 10. Tickets start at $30.