Clowning around meets killer coloratura at Vancouver Opera Festival's farce-happy La Cenerentola

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      By Gioacchino Rossini. A Vancouver Opera Festival production. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Saturday, April 27. Continues from May 1 to 12

      You would have to be in a pretty miserable mood not to enjoy the Vancouver Opera Festival’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella), a production that manages to be polished and cartoonish at the same time.

      The mix is best illustrated in the clever sets and costumes from Portland Opera: pops of vivid blue, green, and pink play against serene grey and white, and 2-D chandeliers and ink-drawn curtains give it all a storybook feel.

      But the acting and singing also hit the right mix, with all-out clowning next to killer coloratura.

      Gioacchino Rossini’s Cinderella story allows for full-blown farce. And he’s made enough twists to the well-known fairy tale, adding multiple layers of mistaken identity, to keep things fresh; even the glass slipper is gone, replaced by a diamond bracelet. Most importantly, director Rachel Peake and title-role soprano Simone McIntosh assert Cenerentola as strong and principled.

      Still, what really drives things here is the Looney Tunes physicality, most outlandishly in the case of the greedy stepfather, Don Magnifico. Peter McGillivray, so memorable as Petrovich in The Overcoat—A Musical Tailoring last spring, is a bewigged buffo here, making the most out of every moment. Just watch him crawl on all fours across the dining table to suck up to the prince, or throw a tantrum when he doesn’t get what he wants.

      Rubber-faced stepsisters Clorinda and Tisbe (Nicole Joanne Brooks and Gena van Oosten, both strong singers from the Young Artists Program at VO) don’t disappoint either, whether they’re descending into slapping fights or preening in two mirrors at centre stage.

      Simone McIntosh as La Cenerentola
      Tim Matheson

      This is bubble-light stuff, but the singing features serious fireworks. Rossini plays endlessly and inventively with the trios and quartets of layered vocals in both acts, and McIntosh’s mezzo soprano sails into some dazzling acrobatics for the famously punishing final aria, “Non più mesta”. As it speeds up like a roller coaster, the perilous runs and trills come at her faster and faster, and she rides the impossible range with volume yet sweetness. As the prince, Don Ramiro, Charles Sy shows off a bright and flowing bel canto tenor, setting off his own pyrotechnics early in Act 2.

      This is hyperenergized opera for both the connoisseur and the newbie—a fun introduction to the art form for kids, or at least those who can sit for more than a couple of hours. It’s fast and entertaining stuff—and just might make you believe, if not in fairy tales, then in the power of music and laughter to lift your spirits.