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Washington National Opera
Like the sitcom Newhart or the ninth season of the soap Dallas, the version of Rossini's Cenerentola presented as a season closer by Washington National Opera turned out to be all a dream (seen May 11). After the poor, little title character's wild ride into aristocratic circles and the coveted realm of love-ever-after, things faded back to grim reality. A letdown, perhaps, for fairy tale lovers, but the dream concept from director Joan Font in this well-traveled production — which is available on DVD in a performance taped during its 2008 run in Barcelona — proved persuasive enough and received plenty of visual help from the fanciful, often cartoon-like set and costume designs by Joan Guillen. There was hardly a moment of rest for the eyes, what with brightly tinted, mile-high hair and wide-load skirts for the wicked stepsisters; a double-headed wooden horse for the entrance of Dandini in his pretend-prince get-up; and giant, rather friendly rats cavorting through most of the scenes. (Oddly, only Cenerentola's entrance at the ball was blandly, almost perfunctorily staged.) The near-constant visual shtick did not detract from the musical values of a highly animated cast headed by Tara Erraught, in her U.S. stage debut. Erraught attracted some unwanted attention last year, when she was targeted by a male segment of the British press for supposed physical unsuitability when she sang her first Octavian at Glyndebourne a year. The Irish mezzo could not have been more endearing here. A natural actress, Erraught nicely conveyed the expected Cinderella traits of humility, sweetness and longing, all while singing up a storm. Other than some thinning in the low register, the mezzo produced a smooth, supple sound. Coloratura was negotiated cleanly and colorfully, nowhere more impressively than in “Nacqui all'affanno ... Non piu mesta,” which Erraught sculpted with abundant variety of dynamics, sensitivity to text and tonal velvet.
As Ramiro, American tenor David Portillo commanded attention from the start just by producing more volume than anyone else onstage. Considerable musicality emerged, too. Portillo’s account of “Si, ritrovarla io giuro,” in particular, stood out as much for the technical fluency as for the subtlety of expression. A few pinched top notes aside, the vibrant singing gave the production a nice lift; so did Portillo's acting, notably during slyly funny business in his first scene involving the disguised prince's befuddled attempt to use a broom, clearly for the first time. In a broad, unrelenting style that recalled the frantic comic antics of film actor Roberto Benigni, Paolo Bordogna romped through the role of Don Magnifico. The approach fit into the scheme of things, and so did the baritone's likewise super-animated phrasing that, except for an edginess when pushing hard, was supported an attractively warm, round tone.
Simone Alberghini put abundant life into the character of Dandini and backed it up with high-spirited, technically polished singing. Jacqueline Echols (Clorinda) and Deborah Nansteel (Tisbe) exuded the requisite smarm and delivered their music with flair. The chorus did disciplined work, vocally and physically. The orchestra sounded thin, but offered a colorful, sturdy response to conductor Speranza Scappucci, who kept the score churning and whirling to generally delectable effect.
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