The Alice Busch Opera Theater is on the shore of Otsego Lake (aka as James Fenimore Cooper’s Glimmerglass). The austere but lovely 914 seat theater has housed Glimmerglass Opera’s productions since 1987. The company now presents about 40 performances of four works each Summer. On Friday August 21 Glimmerglass mounted its penultimate performance of its new production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola.
Glimmerglass is housed in such an idyllic setting that it would be worth a trip even if the company were mediocre. But it’s not. Cenerentola was about as good as it’s possible to get. The biggest reason for the success of this production was the electric conducting of Maestro Joseph Colaneri. The veteran conductor seems to have Rossini in his DNA. His pacing was perfect – crisp and taut. The great ensembles were focused and swift as a bullet. Rossini is not for sissies. He needs a tough guy behind the baton and that’s what he got in Colaneri – terrific. The orchestra was as good as its leader.
The singers were all unknown to me, but under Colaneri’s expert guidance they were at the highest international level.
Canadian mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne had all the right notes and the right sound as well in the title role. She reminded me of Little Orphan Annie as much as she did Cinderella, but that’s of little import. What is important is that she was pert and up to all the role’s great vocal stresses. “Nacqui all’affano … Non piu mesta” the great scena that ends the opera was delivered with ease and finesse. Of course, the the theater’s intimate scale made things easier for the singers so it’s difficult for me to tell how she’d do in a setting as cavernous as the Met’s.
Her two wicked “sisters”, Clorinda and Tisbe, were effectively played by Jamilyn Manning-White and Karin Mushegain both members of the company’s young American Artist program. They were appropriately smarmy and sailed through Rossini’s quicksilver ensembles with assurance.
Tenor John Tessier in a blond wig was the Prince, Don Ramiro. In general he sang well though his voice is not especially luscious. His high notes came from his throat and he was unable to hold onto the one that concluded the cabaletta to “Si, ritrovarla io giuro” in Act 2. Still a credible job.
Bass Eduardo Chamma chewed up the scenery and the proximal section of the auditorium as Don Magnifico. The Argentinean bass is in the mode of Salvatore Baccaloni. He seemed to be having a good time and so did the audience. His voice is loud and agile though not especially mellifluous.
Keith Phares was Dandini, the prince’s valet who pretends to be his master. He played his part with more restraint than Chamma (less would have been impossible) and his impersonation was accordingly strong.
The staging was by Kevin Newbury. He chose to set the opera in New York City at the depth of the depression – circa 1933. While the time shift which seems to be the rule for opera today did not get in the way it didn’t add much other than saving the company some money on costumes. How come an Italian prince and baron are living in Manhattan? Otherwise he was right on the mark. His characters moved in sync with Rossini’s madcap story and his changes in lighting added to the general sense of comic mayhem that pervades the work. I was tempted to call the fashion police – Ramiro’s men wore tails and black tie.
Rossini’s comic operas are one of the summits of Western art. his genius comes from his incredible inventiveness, technical virtuosity, and sheer inspiration masked in a package that makes its contents seem inevitable and easy. After all anybody could write those tunes though no one else seemed to do so. Nobody else, not even Mozart was writing great operas (note the pleural) before his 25th birthday. If Cenerentola is not quite as mad as the Barber or L’Italiana in Algeri it’s close. Only a company at opera’s top rank can do it justice. Glimmerglass hit the target’s center.
My only complaint is that the Rs in “Questo è un nodo avvilupato” weren’t as emphatically rolled as i would have liked. Glimmerglass is not easy to get to if you don’t live in New York, but if you’re in the vicinity during the Summer it’s worth a special trip. It’s also only 8 miles from the Baseball Hall of Fame which adds a second reason to make the journey.