GIOACHINO ROSSINI’S LA CENERENTOLA was last seen in Atlanta in 2008, when the inimitable Jennifer Larmore starred as Angelina. Like Cinderella’s transformation before the ball, the Atlanta Opera has experienced a metamorphosis in the interim, offering contemporary works alongside the warhorses, hiring rousing singers, and mounting eye-catching productions. Now celebrating its fortieth season, the Atlanta Opera opened the mainstage at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on November 2, offering the Joan Font-Joan Guillén production of La Cenerentola, which premiered in Houston in 2007. But the production was lacking in musical alchemy and led one to wonder whether the magic was all just a dream.
The production was unarguably whimsical in an Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-Versailles sort of way: gone were the pastels and rococo refinement of the eighteenth century. Font and Guillén imagined a grey, empty space in which Angelina’s dream would unfold, but Don Magnifico’s dystopian home was embellished by Technicolor costumes, wigs, and clown-like makeup, all designed by Brittany Essen. It was a show that would delight any child, especially with the addition of six life-sized rats who danced and scurried around throughout the evening.
Perhaps it was just a lack of sufficient rehearsal time, but conductor Dean Williamson couldn’t seem to synchronize the orchestra and singers on many high-energy numbers. A bland overture gave one pause, but concern began to mount in the Act I finale “Zitto, zitto, piano, piano” when neither Santiago Ballerini as Don Ramiro nor Thomas Glass as Dandini could seem to get a handle on the tempo. The company, looking a little fearful, held on for dear life during the stretta at dinner, but managed to get through it.
Mezzo-soprano Emily Fons as Angelina was the anchor of the show. A terrific musician and technician, she could execute any coloratura phrase with absolute ease and precision while endearing herself to us. Tenor Santiago Ballerini sang the incognito prince with lyric beauty, complementing her gossamer sound.
Dandini was well-played and well-sung by the youthful Thomas Glass, a recent alum of the Houston Grand Opera Studio and a 2019 Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition winner. Veteran bass-baritone Dale Travis sang Don Magnifico; exceedingly proficient at patter and in possession of a voice that cut like a knife, he was sadly deficient in the giocoso department. Alan Higgs, last seen in Atlanta’s La Traviata, made for an outstanding Alidoro, while neophytes Bryn Holdsworth and Elizabeth Sarian played Clorinda and Tisbe respectively, toffee-nosed and snobby.