Friday, July 20, 2018

Portland Opera's "La Cerentola" a magical treat

Alasdair Kent as Don Ramiro and Kate Farrar in the title role | Photo by Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.
Among the many notable productions that Christopher Mattaliano has directed at Portland Opera, the company’s new production of “La Cenerentola” has to be counted as one of his best. The performance on opening night (Friday, July 13) at the Newmark Theatre sparkled with humor and heartfelt, poignant moments. An outstanding cast, consisting of up-and-coming young talent and seasoned veterans, blended seamlessly to make the well-known story of Cinderella a fresh and enchanting experience.

The production featured inventive and expertly paced acting that kept the audience wondering what would happen next. The comic scenes had everyone in stitches, like the rivalry between Cinderella’s bad sisters, which started with ballet-posed-one-upmanship and accelerated to hilarious extremes with both of them rolling across the floor in a mock cat fight. Yet there were plenty of moments when genuine seriousness came through equally strong, such as after Cinderella and the prince lock eyes for the first time in the “Un soave no so che” duet.

Kate Farrar in the title role combined a supple and powerful delivery with superb acting to sweep even the most reticent listener into her character’s aura. Her singing of Nacqui all’ affanno embodied grace and kindness that wrapped up the opera in wonderful bow.

Australian tenor Alasdair Kent excelled as Don Ramiero (the prince), and while his voice at first seemed a tad thin, he just kept getting better and better throughout the evening. He sang all of the high notes with a golden tone, including the stratospheric ones in the Si, retrovarla io guiro aria.

Ryan Thorn as Dandini | Photo by Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.
Ryan Thorn was an absolute stitch as the prince’s valet, Dandini, especially when he melodramatically fell to the floor after realizing that he couldn’t win Cinderella.

Eduardo Chama raked in the laughs as the pompous and bumblingly malevolent Don Magnifico, threatening to steal the show at any moment. 

Helen Huang’s Clorinda and Laura Beckel Thoreson’s Tisbe were absolutely mesmerizing with incredibly well-timed gestures and expressions that perfectly matched up with the corresponding musical phrase.
Laura Beckel Thoreson as Tisbe, Eduardo Chama as Don Magnifico, Helen Huang as Clorinda | Photo by Cory Weaver/Portland Opera
Daniel Mobbs created Alidoro, the stately philosopher-tutor-magician, with a warm, sympathetic voice.
| Photo by Cory Weaver/Portland Opera
The chorus of leaping footmen made each of their entries a wonderful diversion. But whenever they moved away from the front of the stage, they were hard to hear, owing to the very dry acoustic of the Newmark.

Despite the small size of the Newmark’s orchestra pit, Carolyn Kuan got a lot of sound from the chamber orchestra and paced her forces with verve. Still, some more strings would have improved the overall sound, which got rather thin at times, not matter how much she gestured.

The sets, designed by Daniel Meeker and built by Oregon Ballet Theatre for Portland Opera, were straightforward and evoked everything in the story without being gimmicky. Sue Bonde’s fanciful costume designs were terrific, especially the gaudy outfits that Clorinda and Tisbe wore.

If there were some way to improve the sound of the Newmark Theatre, the production would have been even more satisfying. The Newmark has a very dry acoustic that does not favor music. Someday it would be terrific if Portland had an excellent space for opera, then a production like “La Cerentola” would be truly magical.
| Photo by Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

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