We caught the penultimate performance of Rossini’s La Cenerotola.. Saturday is the final, and it’ll be live on HD. If you already have your live in HD-ticket you’ll have a great time. If you don’t, and it’s still possible to get one, why not? If you want to catch it at the Met, standing room will be your only option as the house is sold out.

The story is of course a familiar one, Cinderella, but with a few twists. No stepmother. In this case it’s a stepfather and while he’s squandered Angelina’s inheritence, and mistreats her, but he’s so buffoonish that you can’t quite get up a full head of steam to hate him. The stepsisters are equally deluded and awful. There’s no fairy godmother, but the Prince’s tutor fills that role.

Now here’s the thing, there are a gazillion versions of the Cinderella – rags to riches story, and very few of them contain actually “magic” as in supernatural beings like fairy godmothers who get the job done by transforming pumpkins into coaches, etc. My FAVORITE version of the tale is the classic Colombian telenovella, Betty La Fea, in which the stepsisters are evil co-workers, and Betty not only gets her prince, but transforms him from a insensitive man-whore, to a responsible husband and father. Her fairy godmother is a publicist who befriends her, helps her pick out clothes, and gets her to depiliate. But I digress…

If you follow the libretto, in Rossini’s version the Prince’s tutor, Alidoro is not a magical being, but he sometimes acts like one. He shows up in scene one disguised as a beggar to better scope out a bride for the Prince. It’s Angelina/Cinderella who treats him with true Christian piety taking seriously that “least among you” stuff. It’s that which makes her worthy to ascend to the ranks of royalty. Alidoro is the one who takes her to the ball.

In the Met’s version, they’ve added a kind of Touched by an Angel gloss to his character. While it was clearly done to entertain, and is not at odds with the libretto, it’s not explicitly supported by it either. Two days later I’m still not sure how I feel about it – creative, or pandering to our expectations? Given the 1930ish costumes, he could have arrived in a Bentley with a bunch of Coco Channel type assistants to dress her up, but what do I know? I’m an idiot, not a dramaturge. Again, in many modern versions of the fairytale, – Pretty Woman, The Devil Wears Prada – mortals have filled the role quite nicely.

This production got a lot of press because the hot tenor, Juan Diego Florez was ailing and the role was taken by Javier Camarena who got raves. We saw it with Florez, who was excellent and has those matinee idol Prince Charming looks as well. In the second act aria, Si, Ritrovarla Io Giuro, he seemed to hit and hold an impossible number of high notes.Opera, is often a competitive sport, so I couldn’t help wondering whether he was trying to banish the memory of his fill-in’s performance.

In addition to that aria, there’s a hell of patter tune in the second act that features the entire ensemble, and a haunting melody sung by the title character in several scenes. Fabio Luisi ably conducts. There’s also tons of physical comedy and the costumes and set design are all a joy.

American soprano Joyce DiDonato was amazing in the title role both dramatically and vocally.

Allesandro Corbelli, Pietro Spagnoli, and Luca Pisaroni all provided excellent support in the roles of Don Magnifico (the stepfather), Dandini (the Prince’s valet) and Alidoro respectively.

Patricia Risley and Rachelle Durkin played the stepsisters. While there is no vocal heavy lifting in their parts, both gave great performances involving a lot of physical comedy. They and were also featured in these roles in the Met’s last go round of this opera in 2009. They worked incredibly well together. For some reason, they don’t have bios included in the Playbill. Isn’t it punishment enough that neither gets to marry the prince?

We’ve seen about 14 operas at the Met this season, and while I’m not sure if I’d say this was our favorite, it’s certainly up there.

This was probably our last Met outing till October, but not our last opera till fall. Next week we’re off to see the New York Opera Exchange’s production of La Traviata. Tickets are still available.

(What does Marion do when she isn’t going to or writing about opera? She writes fiction. You could read some.)

Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte falls squarely and deeply into opera-buffe territory, so “storywise” you can either take it for what it is and have a good time, or just listen to a recording of the sublime music without looking at the supertitles or the action on the stage.

We had a very good time indeed although my understanding (based on the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia) is that the plot was considered so offensive to the ladies that it was often changed.

The basic premise is that all women are fickle and will run off with any man who tries to seduce them. Two young man, Ferrando and Guglielmo dispute this premise, talking of how great their fiancees are. They are challenged by their philosophical older friend, Don Alfonso. A wager is made. The boys tell their fiancees – a couple of sisters named Fiordilgi and Dorabella, that they are going off to war. They come back  – later that same day — in disguise as “Albanians” – each wooing the other’s girl. In addition to Don Alfonso, they are added and abbetted in this ruse by Despina – the saucy maid, who doesn’t exactly know what’s going on, but there’s money in it for her if they go off with the foreigners.

Will the girls crack? Of course they will, it’s a comedy, though Fiordiligi holds out longer and gets to sing a lovely aria about her struggles. Is this terrible in terms of its view of women? Nah. It’s too ridiculous. That the girls don’t recognize their fiancees or their maid who disguises herself as a doctor and a notary is absurd, but no more so than things that happen all the time Shakespeare comedies and in other operas both comedic and dramatic all the time.

It does kind of make you think about the excuses for women’s oppression then and even (in some parts of the world) now. The idea that women have no real moral core and should never be tested, is what keeps them locked away and hidden. Yet, I don’t think the story would work “better” if the girls knew all along – a change which was made at one point in time. That would take away both the opera’s comedy and it’s power.

The singers were all game and seemed to be having a fine time. Guanqun Yu as Fiordiligi was a powerhouse. Maurizio Muraro as the cynical Don Alfonso was a standout. Danielle de Niese mugged a bit – which apparently she does – but charmingly. Matthew Polenzni sang as sweetly as tenors do. James Levine condutcs. The music is by Mozart, the libretto’s in Italian. So if great music and great theater with stage antics and happy endings are your things, you’ve got one performance left – this Thursday night. Tickets including some decent family circle and balcony seats are still available, and if you’ve got nothing to do Thurday afternoon, you could always go for the rush.

In other opera news, I also caught the final performance of Haydn’s Orlando Paladino at the Manhattan School of Music. Every time I hear “Haydn” I want to shout out, “Hidin? Hidin from vat?” which is a line from a play – Arthur Kopit’s Chamber Music, which I was in when I was a kid. It wasn’t my line, but it cracked me up. That’s not relevant to this review. It was just compulsive.

First off, I just want to commend the professionalism of the (graduate) student singers and the musicians. Great work by all. Second, they’ve got a beautiful theater. Acoustics were fantastic. MSM does a couple of operas every year. This was my first despite its being close to where I live. I’d say they need to do a better job on neighborhood outreach but the house was pretty full. Tickets are $30 full freight, $15 for students an seniors. Sunday, I’d say students and seniors comprised at least 70% of the audience.

The production which shortened three acts to two was one of those interesting modern concepts – re imaging castles and woodlands as reality television and a mental hospital. While the concept didn’t totally work – these things rarely do – the pop-art set was something to see, and it mostly worked . It worked better IMHO than the Met’s rat-pack Rigoletto. I didn’t take any photos of the set, and all the ones on the web seem to belong to someone, so you’ll have to look for yourself. There’s a full-length review in the Times, and other places. I plan NOT to miss their future performances, AND I’ll concur with the others that Cameron Johnson, a young baritone, singing the buffoonish Pasquale has a big future ahead. While that future could be operatic, I sense it will be in musical comedy and theater. Given his matinee looks, talent for physical as well as vocal comedy – including a dead on John Travolta dance impression taking us from Tony Manero to Vincent Vega, AND a range that includes a bit of falsetto — the kid is going places.

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Tonight marks our final season ticket outing at the Met. We’re off to see Cosi Fan Tutte, and I’ll be back to tell you how it was.

This doesn’t end opera season for us. We’re planning to do rush tix this week for La Cenerentola, which will probably be our last Met outing till the fall. But that’s not all folks. Although the City Opera is dead, opera for the people isn’t. In addition to the cheap seats always available at the Met, there are other options for us latter day groundlings.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring a couple of them. Tomorrow I’m going to the final performance of Haydn’s Orlando Paladino at the Manhattan College of Music in bucolic Morningside Heights. Though we live in the neighborhood, I hadn’t heard a thing about this, until I stumbled onto something in The New Yorker. They need to do a better job of letting the neighbors know. Posters would be nice. It’s a student cast, and it sounds like an interesting take. There aren’t a lot of tickets left, but what they got is going for $30 for regular folk and $15 for students and seniors. The website was a little tricky to manevever. I kept winding up at a link that said the service wasn’t available. However, if you click here to the calendar and from there click onto the May 4th event, you should be able to order tickets for tomorrow’s performance. Selection is limited, so good luck!

The other cool thing we discovered is The New York Opera Exchange, which sounds almost like City Opera on a shoestring. It features emerging artists in interesting productions. They’ve apparently been around since 2012. Performances happen at a couple of different venues. We’re going to be seeing a production of La Traviata because you can never see that one enough times. It’s being performed in midtown at a church. It’s  set in “the rubble of post-Mussolini Italy” with Alfredo as an American GI. There are several performances in May. Tickets can be purchased online and all seats are $30. Sounds like fun and I will totally let you know, but since performances start 5/9, and we’re not going till the end of the run, don’t wait for our take.

(Seriously, Marion is busy editing her next great novel, and can hardly afford even the cheap seats these days. There’s no donation link because she’s just too proud, but you could help support her opera habit — and these informative posts– by checking out her work, including this acclaimed novella for less than a buck!)

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