A Night At The Opera

My dear wife has been an opera buff for over two years now. Months before the pandemic we were quarantined by her illness, so we’d become seasoned pros when the Shutdown and Mask Mandates began.  She subscribed to the video recordings of the Metropolitan Opera, and by this time has seen so many fine opera performances that she can differentiate among the vocal qualities of the great soloists, the dramatic skills they display, and other performance nuances.  She’s covered the most-performed operas, has delved into the more obscure ones, and has read several books about all aspects of the complex theatrical entity that is opera.

Now that we can start being cautiously out and about again, we’ve decided to reestablish connections with George Mason University’s dynamic performing arts program.  Our very first night out was last month, when we saw the Mark Morris dance ensemble.  His group is world-class, but we’ve also always liked the performances offered by GMU students in their top-notch academic performing arts programs at the venerable (but recently remodeled) Harris Theater.  So when Rossini’s La Cenerentola was offered by the Mason Opera, we bought in.  Three hours of fun for a $24 general admission ticket is always a bargain, even with the downtown-level parking garage fee.

GMU La Cenerentola cast, but not the GMU set.

La Cenerentola is a radical reframing of the Cinderella story to fit the rollicking lilt of Rossini’s comic stage, and to emphasize a “deeper” morality more in keeping with the sentimentality and realism of the bourgeoisie audiences of the 19th century.  Wickedness is banished; the evil stepmother is replaced by a buffoon would-be-aristocrat father, and the sisters are more fatuous than nasty.  Magic is banished: the fairy godmother is replaced by the Prince’s philosopher-advisor; no mice, no pumpkins, no glass slipper.  And in the opera it is not Cinderella who is transformed, but the Prince.  Wanting to find a woman who loves him for himself, not his position and wealth, he switches roles with his valet when he visits Cinderella’s dad.  And she, true to form, falls in love with the “valet,” and refuses the advances of the “prince.”  Bingo!  She gets to become a princess, her father and sisters are humiliated, and of course, being the super-sweetie she is, she forgives them their boorishness in the end.

We sat in the second row, barely behind the orchestra “pit” (just a section in front of the stage for the players).  It was a smallish orchestra, only three violins in each section, but some of the singers still had trouble projecting over it.  We got a very good sense, however, of the way Rossini used his instruments, and how difficult an opera conductor’s job is, keeping everything in sync.  There were two professional singers in the cast, one in the major role of the Prince’s valet, Dandini.  He projected well, and was an encouragement to the student soloists, who sang with somewhat more presence in the Second Act.  All the cast, including and especially Rosemary Wright (Cenerentola), handled the difficult coloratura passages beautifully, and she has a lovely voice.  The other professional singer, of Puerto Rican heritage, will release an album next month of songs by a Ukrainian-born Puerto Rican composer.  She played one of the boorish sisters with suitable animation.

It was a most entertaining evening.  We came away with a sense of joy in the music, new faith in true love, respect for the budding musical talent we’d seen, and hope that live performing arts will once again be a cornerstone of our existence.

© Arnold J. Bradford, 2022.

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