SARASOTA — There's a dreamlike quality to the Sarasota Opera production of La Cenerentola (Cinderella) that is exactly right. Heather Johnson is mostly delightful in the mezzo-soprano coloratura role of the scullery maid turned princess, and she is surrounded by an excellent cast in Rossini's comic version of the Cinderella fairy tale. (Here, it's a bracelet, not a slipper, with which the prince identifies his true love.)
Johnson has suitable spunky charm as the downtrodden maid, but her singing is more effective in the florid arias for the princess than in the ensemble numbers, where she is almost inaudible amid the other voices. She does well in the octave-leaping passages, though it seems that she is pretty sparing in her inclusion of the ornamental flourishes Rossini wrote for the role.
Hak Soo Kim is Cinderella's prince (at first disguised as his own valet), and he dashes off the many high C's in his big Act 2 aria, "Si, ritrovarla io giuro," with radiant aplomb. Dandini (the valet disguised as the prince) is played by Sean Anderson, who has some wonderfully witty scenes that bring out the subversive class themes of the opera. Benjamin Gelfand is marvelous as another character who is not what he seems, the philosopher in beggar's rags, Alidoro.
Cinderella's antagonists are hilariously portrayed by Abla Lynn Hamza and Melissa Treinkman as the preening stepsisters. As her stepfather, Don Magnifico, Stefano de Peppo zips through Rossini's comic patter in his opening aria after being awakened from a "magnificent dream."
La Cenerentola is not performed often by regional opera companies, which are much more likely to put on yet another staging of The Barber of Seville (a snatch of music from Rossini's greatest hit does show up in the Cinderella score). The opera bogs down in the second act when the maid is transformed and the action gets more ceremonial than dramatic.
Still, it's a treat to see this production, smartly directed by Stephanie Sundine, who makes good use of having several scenes performed in front of the stage curtain while set changes are made, though the final set change is awfully slow. Scenic designer Tony Fanning created a lovely picture-book set for the prince's country estate, and Ken Yunker's lighting takes on a burnished golden glow for the great Act 1 quintet at Don Magnifico's rundown castle. Howard Tsvi Kaplan (costumes) and Georgianna Eberhard (wigs and makeup) had fun outfitting the stepsisters.
Artistic director Victor DeRenzi conducted the Sarasota Orchestra in its only opera outing of the season, and the orchestra sounded much better in the Rossini score Tuesday night than it did last year in Verdi's La Traviata. DeRenzi is also credited for the English surtitles, which have some nicely poetic turns of phrase in translation of Jacopo Ferretti's libretto.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at tampabay.com/blogs/critics.