12 November 2017
La Cenerentola: Come for the music, Stay for the rats!
Over the years that I have been going to the productions of the Opéra de Montréal, I don’t think I have ever had such a crazy, funny, over-the-top experience as I had last night at their production of La Cenerentola. It had everything I love and expect with a healthy dose of some very entertaining surprises.
The audience was in a very good mood, and there really is nothing like Rossini to make you feel upbeat and enthusiastic. I think my favourite operas have this Italian flavour — light, lifting music, wonderful songs intertwining and underlining the voices of the singers. This is the first time that I remember the overture (that music that begins and ends before the curtain goes up) getting a sustained ovation and this before a single not was sung. Totally beautiful.
When the curtain does go up, a lovely simple set that later proves to adapt well to all of the locales it is to portray. For me, yet another set I want to have as an apartment, as I kid myself that I could ever maintain something so stark and beautiful while also living in it. But the best treat of last night was also revealed as the curtain went up for the first time: the rats!
I figure it was the six dancers, who all seem to hail from Montréal, under the direction of choreographer Xevi Dorca from Spain, who so expertly played the rats. They are worth naming: Aymen Benkeira, Dominic Caron, Gama Fonseca, Geosmany Perez-Pulido, Pascal Lalancette and Mathieu Rainville. They sat in the shadows, scurried to avoid the people they knew wouldn’t like them, scratched themselves, scratched at the air and frankly moved like rats. Memories of my own brush with the creature flooded back, this time with much pleasure. And then they did things rats don’t do, but with the same rat movements: moved furniture, conducted a silhouette carriage carrying the prince across the top of the set, then a toy one across the front, with resultant loss of wheel that leads the prince to seek refuge in the wicked stepfather’s house, and they made the sounds of a wind- and thunderstorm with classic soundmaking implements. When in the background, they scurried and his, and yet were visible in their mirroring of the choreography of the rest of the cast. When in the foreground, they rolled and gambolled about in perfect complementarity to the music. Every movement was a joy and a chuckle. Total scene-stealers!
Costumes! A crazy surreal interpretation of renaissance style. The evil step-sisters wandered about in their underclothes for quite a long time, showing us the various structural elements that would give them exaggerated hips under their gowns, balancing towering neon pink and yellow wigs (one pink, the other yellow). The prince’s retinue looked like the Oompa Loompa, but with bright blue wigs, and in true operatic style simple costume changes could disguise a prince as his servant and vice-versa.
Yes, a Cinderella story, but with a few differences. Wicked stepfather, who wastes the fortune that should have belonged to Angelina (La Cenerentola) on his own spoiled daughters, Angelina is sent to the party by a philosopher (not a fairy godmother), who arrives as a beggar (how better to separate the truly good from the evil, but by playing beggar?), and the clue she leaves behind for the prince is her bracelet, one of a pair for which he can search if he really desires her. I saw an interview with Patrick Corrigan, the Opéra de Montréal’s General Director, in which he explained the slipper-bracelet difference. At the time of the debut of this opera 200 years ago, it was considered unseemly to expose a woman’s ankles on stage. The solution was to switch out the slipper for a bracelet, which we all know goes on the much less provocative wrist of its wearer. A pair of them so they could be matched for a positive ID, of course.
So let’s see…music, sets, dancers, costumes, story… Oh! Singing!
I remember seeing another version of Cinderella years ago with a crazy surreal 1950’s-type kitchen in which I felt like the male singers’ voices were totally swallowed by the set. No so this time. I particularly loved Vito Priante in the role of Dandini (the prince’s servant who pretends to be the prince for much of the opera). The wicked stepsisters Clorinda and Tisbe (why aren’t people naming their children such delightful names these days?!), played expertly by Lauren Margison and Rose Naggar-Tremblay, respectively, have some delightful songs to sing and do it with gusto and force. By comparison, Julie Boulianne in the role of Angelina (La Cenerentola) seems a bit quieter (maybe it’s the nature of the songs she has to sing?), but really bursts forth in her solos. The best of it is the duets and the many instances in which the whole cast seems to be singing sometimes competing parts of the same songs. That really brings the whole thing to life.
I keep pointing out that I am no expert on music or opera, and I’m sure that those who are will have figured that out long before this point in my review. But let me just say that if you aren’t an expert and always wanted to know why people would find opera so entertaining, this production of La Cenerentola should be your gateway drug. It continues playing this week, with performances on the 14th, 16th and 18th. Go see it!