Seattle Opera doesn’t often perform La Cenerentola, Rossini’s opera buffa take on the Cinderella story, but when it does, it’s memorable. (Robert Orth was Dandini and Julian Patrick, Don Magnifico, in the ’96 production, and hijinks, as they say, ensued.)
This co-production of Cenerentola (at McCaw Hall through January 26), has taken the coloratura in the score, and expressed it visually as well. The innovative, playful sets and costumes by Joan Guillén are a riot of colors — one of the stepsisters seems to be wearing a boldly upbeat Picasso for a dress, and the stage fills, in one scene, with what appears to be a chorus of sozzled Oompa Loompas. (It’s the bright blue wigs.)
And then there are the rats (of unusual size), with their long, floppy tails, scurrying about, moving furniture, cleaning whiskers, and — in one glorious set piece — providing a gymnastic explication of a perplexed ensemble’s mental contortions.
Directed by Joan Font of Barcelona’s Comediants company, with choreography by Xevi Dorca, the production gives you the chance to distinguish Spanish commedia dell’arte from 1996’s riff on American slapstick. The costumes and makeup may be outrageous, but commedia takes its comic characters seriously — as Don Magnifico, Patrick Carfizzi makes a huge ass of himself with Method-like commitment to the clowning. His prickly skirmishes with Brett Polegato’s Dandini (the Prince’s valet in disguise as the Prince, as an IRL screening tool for prospective matches) are over too soon. Arthur Woodley, as the Prince’s tutor Alidoro, is solemn and grandfatherly, doling out rumbling affirmations and terrific-looking ball apparel.
At the heart of any good Cenerentola is a good Angelina (I heard Daniela Pini; the role is double-cast so Karin Mushegain sings January 20 and 25). Pini’s coloratura is breathtakingly deft, and her characterization of Angelina is miles away from mopey. She might be shyly kindhearted, but she presses a reluctant Don Magnifico (her equally reluctant father) repeatedly to be allowed to go to the ball, and once there, acquires a poise that never leaves her.
Her Prince is René Barbera, who leaps to his high notes with such ease I almost got vertigo on the way up. He didn’t display, here, that Italianate a style — he likes to land a solid punch on notes, rather than caress them and slip away. Barbera and Polegato have a master-servant relationship that would have Foucault tearing up everything he’d written, realizing he’d forgotten to put the family-feud fun in. A small bit of business with a hat acquires a kind of status-establishing grandeur. Sarah Larsen and Dana Pundt are the preening, mean-girl stepsisters Tisbe and Clorinda who, up to the end, can’t believe that their step-ragamuffin is competition for the Prince.
The orchestra, led by Giacomo Sagripanti, sounds as happy to be playing Rossini as everyone else is singing it. Rossini’s score is bouncy and light on its feet, but Sagripanti slackens the pace judiciously, giving room for lovestruck arias to blossom, or for Alidoro to proceed in his stately way toward a redistribution of social status.