TAMPA — Two hundred years after its debut, the satirical edge in Cinderella still feels fresh. Gioachino Rossini's opera throws out the magic, including the glass slipper and the fairy godmother, and turns romance into a bullied stepchild. A widower and his two daughters hit on all of the deadly sins, with the possible exception of sloth, attempting to force themselves into a higher social position. Even the befuddled prince is no match for most of the story.
Opera Tampa has seized on the wit in Jacopo Ferretti's libretto for Cinderella (also known as La Cenerentola) and built a lavish production around it. Director James Marvel has really stepped forward with inventive choreography, costumes (for principals, at least) that for once did not come straight from the rental shop and contemporary touches. It's a high-fiving, bootie-shaking comedy that stimulates the creative impulses of everyone involved, down to the hot colors and designs on the lighting palette, a Marvel staple delivered by Jimmy Lawlor.
With that kind of atmosphere and table setting, the singing is more than a main course. It completes a visual spectacle.
The storyline in Rossini's Cinderella, which debuted in 1817, still hinges on the conflict with stepsisters Clorinda and Tisbe, played with clownlike agility by soprano Johanna Fincher and mezzo-soprano Robyn Rocklein, and her father Don Magnifico, whose hilarious portrayal by bass-baritone Adelmo Guidarelli completes this trashy triumvirate. Prince Ramiro pays them a visit in disguise, part of his search for the most beautiful woman in the state. He finds the disfavored Angelina, the Cinderella character, working as a lowly chambermaid, and is smitten.
The work of getting her to the ball and shepherding her around falls to Ramiro's assistant, Dandini, who develops his own crush on Angelina. Gabriel Preisser's rich baritone has made him eminently castable in several previous Opera Tampa productions. But as Dandini he reveals a comic dimension that played a critical role, like the third leg of a 400-meter relay. Many of the show's current allusions come through him, from a hip-hop move in a dance sequence to playing homoerotic mind games with Don Magnifico. In a blatant gag near the end, as Ramiro claims Angelina over the protestations of her father and stepsisters, a sullen Dandini watches from across the room, nibbling from a tub of movie popcorn.
Mezzo-soprano Emily Righter, the main attraction as Angelina, does not disappoint. She was by far the most disciplined singer in this cast, handling the score's difficult runs without incident and landing the notes at both ends of a wide range.
David Guzman, her counterpart, is both thrilling and a bit frustrating. He has a bright and powerful tenor that hits a bull's-eye on distant targets. Then he might miss an easy one, like an adequate note he would have crushed, had he not run short of breath. Many singers in leading roles lack his instrument yet have better control. Guzman remains one to watch. It would not be at all surprising if he ascends to significant heights.
A smaller cast (less than half of the 40-plus in Romeo and Juliet) and the set capabilities at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts' Ferguson Hall and the fine work of conductor and artistic director Daniel Lipton's orchestra, seemed a perfect fit. The opera concludes with Angelina's aria of forgiveness, giving Righter's mellifluous voice the royal platform it deserves.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected]ampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.