CIM Opera: Massenet's Cendrillon (November 9)
By J.D. Goddard
Wednesday, November 9, was opening night for the Cleveland Institute of Music’s production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (Cinderella) in Kulas Hall, directed by David Bamberger and conducted by Harry Davidson. An impressive balance of exceptional student talent took to the stage and handily negotiated the lush romanticism and clever comedic elements inherent in this charming work (with French libretto by Henri Cain based on the 1698 fairy tale by Charles Perrault) that premiered in 1899.
Massenet’s Cendrillon is considered to be one of his most delightful creations; the music captures the dreamlike gentleness of fairies, the staunch pomp and circumstance of the court and the always alluring plot surrounding a “love against all odds” story line.
As director David Bamberger explained in the program notes: “Those of us who grew up with Disney’s classic Cinderella tend to think of it as the ‘real story’ of an unlucky girl who rises to wealth and prominence through the power of love. Brilliant as the movie is, however, it is not the only way to tell the tale. Cinderella appears to be an archetypal myth that is found in almost every culture and every period.”
Suffice to say, this CIM production was produced as a wonderfully ensorcelled story filled with heartfelt emotional ups and downs that appealed to the emotions of the audience. A dreamlike feeling of triumph ensued as the good eventually won out and overcame greedy insensitivity.
Baritone Mark Wanich (Pandolfe, Cendrillon’s father) sang with congenial authority, resonance and warm emotion. Soprano Kellie Rumba, Lucette (Cendrillon), was poignantly convincing as this always sympathetic character and sang with intense emotional depth and clear vocal brilliance. She stoically maintained her character’s “physically challenged” affliction (wheel chair, walking sticks and staff) with poise and dignity. (This affliction was rather blurrily depicted in the prologue and was a bit too subtle to be understood.) Her stage presence and acute acting skills appealed directly to the audience without resorting to the temptation of exaggeration.
Alto Samantha Renea Gossard (Cendrillon’s stepmother, Madame de la Haltière) was simply outstanding. Her vocal strength was impressive, bold, full bodied and at all times under control as she portrayed a stern step-mother with bravura — and delicate finesse as needed. Her vocal prowess carried with it an exceptional authoritative presence and she dominated the stage.
The trio with Gossard, mezzo-soprano Alicia Bousner (Madame de la Haltiere’s older daughter) and soprano April Martin (Madame de la Haltiere’s younger daughter) was an absolute treat as their voices entwined alluringly — with some genuinely creative staging linked to the accented strong beats in the score. Bousner and Martin were quite perfect as Lucetta’s sisters and brought delightful comic relief to the stage while singing with wonderful buffoonish clarity and projection.
Soprano Min Kyeong Kim (The Fairy Godmother) spun an entrancing vocal web of coloratura buoyancy that was a highlight of the performance. Her entourage of Woodland Spirits (Carson Dorsey, Alyssa Hensel, Stephanie Klock, Bethany Grace Mamola, Agostina Migoni and Jacquelyn Mouritsen) brought a beautifully delicate grace to the stage along with excellent ensemble blend and balance.
Notable in this performance was Act 4, where a rather ethereal episode occurs with Lucette (Cendrillon) and her Prince Charming as they are kept apart and their love for each other is tested by the mystical designs of the Fairy Godmother. Here, Min Kyeong Kim’s coloratura trills and arpeggios were especially magical along with the hauntingly lovely offstage chorus interjections of lush, flowing harmonic sonorities.
Tenor David Fair (Prince Charming, originally written as a mezzo pants role) was a bit under the weather with a cold but he sang through this obvious impediment with notable professionalism and retained his character and poise. His attention to the romantic quality of his vocal lines was notable and refreshing.
Baritone Armando Contreras (The Master of Ceremonies), tenor Brian Skoog (The Dean of the Faculty), baritone Jake Andricks (The King), baritone Troy Bruchwalski (The Herald) and baritone Ryan Hill (The First Minister) rounded out the cast with excellent vocal additions to the story line and Mr. Skoog produced some very clever moments with his characterization.
Throughout the opera, the chorus made well-sung, clearly projected contributions to the action. CIM usually fields a talented student orchestra for its opera productions and this was no exception. Massenet’s Cendrillon is a difficult score to conduct with many exposed and intricate entrances and accompaniments underlying the vocal parts. Harry Davidson's conducting was clear and stylistically inspiring, and singers and orchestra traversed tricky passages with sure footed precision.
Utilizing clever and always lucid staging, David Bamberger enhanced the inherent dreamlike effect of Cain’s libretto to the fullest extent possible.
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This review has been revised to correct an earlier misidentication of cast members in the third to last paragraph.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com November 15, 2011.
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