Presented by Boston Lyric Opera
Music by Gioachino Rossini
Libretto by Jacopo Ferretti
Conducted by David Angus
Stage Directed by Dawn M. Simmons
Sung in Italian with English surtitles
November 8-12, 2023
Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre
219 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02116
Critique by Gillian Daniels
Boston, MASS. – A downtrodden heroine, Angelina (Cecelia Hall), gets revenge on her family by marrying for love and living well. La Cenerentola is a Cinderella adaptation that sparkles with humor and Giaochino Rossini’s energetic score. It’s fun, it’s satisfying, and this Boston production does credit to the fairy tale for the benefit of local audiences.
Evil stepfather Don Magnifico is a highlight as a hedonistic human peacock. He’s a remarkable antagonist played with scene-stealing gusto by Brandon Cedel. Cedel’s charisma, enviable wardrobe (courtesy of Costume Designer Trevor Bowen), body language, general scuzziness, and cartoonish pompadour are a joy. His performance evokes Alex Brightman’s turn as Broadway’s Beetlejuice. Cedel’s talent (and physical height) makes him a towering presence on the stage. The show’s evil stepsisters, Tisbe (Alexis Peart) and Clorinda (Dana Lynne Varga), are more than happy to mimic his cruelty.
Our prince charming is tenor Levy Sekagapane as Don Ramiro. His voice is a crystal cutting standout in an opera of strong performances. The “fairy godmother” is Alidoro (James Demler), a philosopher and Don Ramiro’s mentor. Alidoro first sees Angelina and, charmed by her kindness, guides the couple together.
In order to focus more on the romance, Angelina and Don Ramiro meet prior to the ball. Their first pangs of attraction are when both are dressed as “commoners”–Angelina in a cleaning outfit and Don Ramiro pretending to be his own valet in order to get to know potential future wives.
In a moment that adds a modern flourish and clear opportunity to pander to Boston audiences, Angelina demonstrates her inherent goodness by offering Alidoro Dunkin Donuts coffee when he shows up at their home. A further nod to the setting is seen when one of the courtiers, while inviting the daughters of the house to be courted by the prince in “O figlia amabili di Don Magnifico,” serenades the audience in a Celtics jersey.
The Boston theme is woven throughout the show, including an unusually austere home of Don Magnifico which is a high rise Seaport condominium. Its interior is bereft of the family’s peacocking excesses, which I think is a misstep. While Seaport can be hideous, this particular, parred-down set feels distancing. It’s put to shame by Don Ramiro’s home, its vine-covered walls and enclosed courtyard successfully depicting Beacon Hill.
This version of Cinderella is stripped of magic except for the bottomless altruism of Angelina. Rather than leave her cruel step-family in the dust, she invites them to her wedding and declares, “My forgiveness is my revenge.” The story of Cinderella has garnered criticism for its passive heroine, but here, we get to see her strength in withstanding cruel treatment and coming out the other side with her compassion intact.
Because Cinderella’s story beats are so central to mainstream culture, I found myself impatient by the end of the nearly three hour show to get to the happily ever after. Yet getting there felt triumphant and, somehow, new. This rendition of the tale may not have magic, but this production feels magical.