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In Review > North America


Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater

In Review MSM Cendrillon hdl 318
MSM’s Cendrillon, with Emilyn Badgley, Marshall Morrow and Hannah Friesen
© Carol Rosegg

THE OPÉRA COMIQUE Cendrillon by Maltese composer Nicolas Isouard is closer in plotline to Rossini’s Cenerentola than to Massenet’s much later Cendrillon. The Isouard version proved a perfect fit for the young students in Manhattan School of Music’s opera program. Kudos to the entire production and research team for bringing to light this charming work, with songs in French and dialogue in English translation, and for reconstructing an orchestral score and parts from limited and confusing material. 

Stage director Dona D. Vaughn updated the tale to the Roaring ’20s, with Arnulfo Maldonado providing spare but eye-catching art deco sets, their rich blues and purples enhanced by Tyler Micoleau’s lighting. Tracy Dorman’s Erté-inspired costumes flattered everyone, and ensemble scenes included a twelve-voice chorus prepared by Miriam Charney. As in Rossini’s version, a wise old man (Alidoro) proves more loving than Cinderella’s own father, and he enacts the transformation that enables her to attend the prince’s ball. Having switched identities with his own servant, the prince recognizes Cinderella’s goodness and kindness and asks to be her champion in a tournament. The stepsisters are hilariously pushy, while a magic rose (à la Beauty and the Beast) and the missing slipper enrich the plot. 

In the final show, seen on December 10, MSM’s women outshone the men vocally, but Vaughn’s deft direction worked to everyone’s dramatic strengths. Soprano Emilyn Badgley was a particular standout as the stepsister Tisbé, who gets to detail her woes in an old-fashioned opera seria scene; Badgley delivered this with mature musicianship and handsome tone. Her sister Clorinde, the excellent Hannah Friesen, sings a party-pleasing boléro that showcased the soprano’s bright, clear sound and alluring stage presence. Both sopranos tossed off the virtuoso writing in their comic duets, the highlights of the performance, with precision and verve. In the title role, Michelle Capano displayed supple, even tone, but she needs more stage experience.

As a suave Alidoro, Sidhant Seth commanded the plot with lovely sound and subtle charm. Sweet-voiced tenor Taicheng Li was singing through a cold, but he revealed a lovely stage presence with leading-man charisma, although his French needs work. Marshall Morrow’s Dandini, tall, thin and hilariously snooty, showed real comic skill, and William Huyler’s pretentious Baron made the listener long for a comic duet for these two.

Isouard’s arias often employ the predictable two-verse structure beloved of opéra comique composers, and his ensembles brim with inventive rhythms. In addition to the virtuoso duets for Clorinde and Tisbé, the sisters’ patter trio and the “Triomphe” ensemble were especially attractive. The dry acoustic of the auditorium of the Alliance Française flattered no one. Conductor Pierre Vallet might have shaped accompaniment figures more discreetly, but the student instrumentalists played with commitment and verve, and the overture showcased Hannah Murphy on harp and the solo horn of Nicole Rodriguez.  —Judith Malafronte 

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