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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 18, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 3
Mice en scene - Rossini's charm finally emerges in SO's Cenerentola
Arts & Entertainment
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Mice en scene - Rossini's charm finally emerges in SO's Cenerentola

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

LA CENERENTOLA (CINDERELLA)
SEATTLE OPERA
Through January 26


A member of the nonmusical staff of Seattle Opera said to me, 'If it weren't for those mice, I would be bored to death!' She was referring to six dancers who, dressed in comic rat costumes, appear in almost every scene of the current production of Rossini's delightful operatic retelling of Cinderella, titled La Cenerentola (pronounced Chen-er-EN-to-la). I both hated and loved those rodents. That is, opening night I hated them, whereas at the Sunday matinee the next day, I loved them. I'm not being fickle - the two performances were, to my eyes and ears, just so different.

The rats were just as good in both performances, but their effect changed dramatically because of the musical weakness of several singers on opening night. La Cenerentola is a comic opera of many delights when performed well. But Saturday night struggled to be funny and mostly failed. The problem was primarily that the two lead singers were not very musical. Daniela Pini, from Lugo, Italy, displayed a rather unattractive mezzo voice, every tone of which lacked a warm center, giving us the ups and downs of her vibrato with only a hint of the fundamental pitch. She had all the notes easily enough but performed the vocal acrobatics of the part more as calisthenics than as anything musical or emotionally expressive.

Her Prince Ramiro, René Barbera, from San Antonio, Texas, although possessed of a world-class tenor voice, sang on opening night with doubtful musicality. Perhaps from nerves about his debut, he sang everything loud. Aside from some astounding high C's and D-naturals, he made little impression. But the next afternoon, when he filled in for the ailing scheduled tenor, he was a different singer. His tone was much more beautiful. He caressed phrases into expressive lines, and made this listener a true fan. His high notes were no less exciting but were the icing on the cake rather than the whole meal.

MUSHEGAIN MAGNIFICENT
Sunday's performance was greatly enhanced by California native Karin Mushegain, whose Cinderella was charming, superbly sung, and quite expressive despite her having a considerably smaller instrument than Pini's. This time the fast passages were no mere exercises for showing off; they were emotionally expressive. Her closing aria was dashed off with gleeful exuberance and brought the opera to a joyous close. Equally important, her acting was utterly believable and pulled the listener into her adventure.

Cinderella's sisters, sung by Dana Pundt and Sarah Larsen, both current members of SO's Young Artists Program, sang the first bits in the opera. Unfortunately, their opening lines were sung from an acoustically dead spot on stage. This, combined with the underpowered voice of at least one of them, gave the unfortunate impression that they perhaps were not ready for a big-theater production. Neither Patrick Carfizzi (Saturday) nor Valerian Ruminski (Sunday) were much more than adequate as Don Magnifico, father to the sisters. Arthur Woodley, always excellent in his Seattle appearances, continued his success playing the beneficent 'fairy godfather,' who in this telling of the story is the teacher to the Prince.

POLEGATO, SAGRAPANTI SHINE
Aside from the Sunday version of tenor Barbera, there were two other performers who alone would make your attendance worthwhile: baritone Brett Polegato (from Toronto) and conductor Giacomo Sagripanti, making his U.S. debut (from Giulianova, Italy). These two gentlemen delivered everything I could wish for in ideal Rossini singing and conducting. Polegato is an incredibly talented singer in every style, having wowed us here in modern repertory (Henry in The End of the Affair), 18th century (Orestes in Iphigenia in Tauris), and verismo (Sharpless in Madama Butterfly) operas. His coloratura was a model of how to make vocal calisthenics accurate, very easily heard, and expressive of infectious humor, all the while maintaining tonal beauty and ease. Truly an amazing artist!

Sagripanti and his orchestra gave us an overture that left me feeling glad to be alive. So many conductors totally miss the wit and charm of this seemingly simple music, but Sagripanti caught it all. He chose perfect tempi throughout the show, kept stage and pit perfectly aligned, and supported the singers beautifully. He even mouthed every word to the Chorus members, whose performance was another of this production's highlights. His beat and cues were perfectly clear, even though he did not use a baton. I hope this young and very attractive conductor returns to Seattle Opera soon!

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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