By Lawrence Budmen

Gioachino Rossini was one of the 19th century’s most prolific composers of Italian opera. Best known today for The Barber of Seville, Rossini penned innumerable operatic epics (The Siege of Corinth, Semiramide, William Tell) as well as light hearted comedies (The Italian Girl in Algiers, Il Signor Bruschino). One of his most engaging confections is La Cenerentola, a whimsical reinvention of the Cinderella story. Florida Grand Opera has produced a diverting production of this lively work (seen on May 31 at the Arsht Center’s Ziff Opera House).

For many years Rossini’s major operas disappeared from the repertoire due to a lack of mezzo-sopranos with the requisite coloratura extensions and flexibility. The Spanish mezzo Conchita Supervia began a revival of these wonderful scores in the 1930’s which gained momentum three decades later with the emergence of such brilliant Rossini specialists as Marilyn Horne, Lucia Valentini-Terrani, and the young Frederica von Stade. More recently Cecilia Bartoli and Olga Borodina have triumphed in these roles.

The young Canadian mezzo Julie Boulianne was an entrancing Angelina (Cenerentola) in the FGO production. With a lovely, dark vocal timbre and natural comedic grace, Boulianne was a charismatic heroine. Moreover, she can spin coloratura roulades and scales with dizzying ease; the voice free and without strain even in its uppermost register. This Cinderella was a plucky heroine who dominated the ballroom scene by sheer spunk and inner radiance.

FGO surrounded Boulianne with a cast of attractive singers and theatrical personalities. As Don Ramiro, Canadian tenor Frederic Antoun was a standout. Possessing a world class lyric tenor voice, Antoun negotiated dulcet mezzo-fortes and brilliant high notes with fearless agility. He looked every inch the Prince, channeling romantic ardor in the loveliest of songful flights. Boulianne and Antoun were a perfectly matched, appealing romantic duo.

Romanian baritone Marian Pop proved a born entertainer in the role of the Prince’s valet and impersonator Dandini. With a smoothly produced, beguiling bel canto voice and shrewd comic timing, Pop recalled the great Italian baritone Renato Capecchi in this role. He danced and pranced across the stage, milking the limelight and exhibiting the comedic genius of a Sid Caesar. Pop’s fine light baritone and theatrical instincts portend a major career.

Don Magnifico, Rossini’s comedic rendition of Cinderella’s evil stepfather, was a plum role for veteran Canadian baritone Gaetan Laperriere. An experienced Verdian, Laperriere was a real scene stealer. His sturdy baritone spun the Gilbert and Sullivan like patter with suave panache. Despite uneven vocal production, Carlos Monzon was capable as Aliodoro, the Prince’s tutor and magician. (Monzon’s scenes with Boulianne were particularly enticing.) As the evil sisters Nili Riemer and Karin Mushegain were a barrel of laughs. Their bright vocal gymnastics and timbral allure were no less impressive, Riemer’s high soprano displaying particular ease and flair.

The new FGO orchestra played with crisp, precise articulation. Conductor Joel Revzen proved an experienced trouper rather than a galvanizing force. The orchestral charge lacked that extra fizz that makes musical champagne sparkle. Despite a small scale production from the Baltimore Opera, A. Scott Parry’s staging was deft and enlivening, avoiding undo slapstick. For sheer entertainment value, this Cenerentola was a charmer, the perfect family opera.

Florida Grand Opera presents La Cenerentola (with Andrew Bisantz conducting) at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale on February 5 and 7. For information, see www.fgo.org.


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