Cinderella arrives in town with a couple of clever twists when the Washington National Opera presents an eye-popping production of Gioachino Rossini’s opera buffa, “La Cenerentola.”
The Cinderella story of a lovely, mistreated young woman is eons old, possibly originating in China, followed by folk tales in Greece and Italy, where the first written version was published. Once the Brothers Grimm reprised the tale as imagined by Charles Perrault, it became imbedded in popular culture, and little girls everywhere dreamed of falling in love with a handsome prince. The tale continues to charm today’s audiences as the national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” wends its way across the country and the Disney film continues to be enjoyed.
Rossini made the traditional story his own by taking several liberties. The first was changing the name of the persecuted heroine to Angelina. He also replaced the evil stepmother with an equally evil stepfather, Don Magnifico.
The fairy godmother became the prince’s kindly tutor, Alidoro, and the glass slipper evolved into a bracelet.
The Kennedy Center cast includes Shenyang, a native of China and winner of the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, in the role of Alidoro.
The role of Angelina alternates between two award-winning sopranos, Irish native Tara Erraught and American Isabel Leonard, a frequent performer with the Metropolitan Opera Company.
“I hugely enjoy working with both casts,” said Miss Leonard, who studied at Juilliard. “We swap back and forth during rehearsals, and the sisters keep us in stitches. Rossini creates strong, positive female characters. Even when Angelina is still in the ashes, she has fire in her belly, and Speranza brings out her sparkiness in the music. The best part of sharing a role is getting to hang out all the time with your friend.”
Miss Erraught agreed emphatically. “Isabel and I have worked together a number of times,” she said, including in Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” at Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich.
“I love the fact that this is a multicultural cast in a great comedy that could be understood in any language,” Miss Erraught said. “In addition, the colors of the costumes and scenery are so vivid that the audiences in the Kennedy Center will be astounded.”
The co-production features four notable opera companies and a talented international cast, most making their WNO debuts, as does Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci. Renowned director Francesca Zambello conjures up her magic formulas behind the scenes.
In addition to her role onstage, Miss Leonard, who has won a Grammy Award, is releasing an album of Spanish songs this month.
Miss Erraught, whose first language was Gaelic, is a graduate of the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin and recipient of a number of prestigious awards, including the Washington National Opera Prize in Vienna, even though she had not yet sung with the company.
After “La Cenerentola,” she will return to Munich to perform in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” In December she will make her Carnegie Hall debut.
“These wonderful experiences let me know that I’m on the right trajectory,” she said.
In addition to performances in the Kennedy Center Opera House, a free simulcast on an enormous screen at Nationals Park on Saturday offers a happy ending for aspiring princesses and their families.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Washington National Opera presents Rossini’s “Cinderella” (La Cenerentola) — in Italian with projected English supertitles
WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC 20566
WHEN: May 1121; May 11, 16 at 7 p.m.; May 13, 15, 19 and 21 at 7:30 p.m.; May 21 at 2 p.m.
INFO: Tickets: $25 to $300 by calling 202/467-4600 or 800-444-1324, or by visiting Kennedy-Center.org.
M&M’s Opera in the Outfield, Nationals Park, at 7 p.m. Saturday. (Gates open at 5 p.m.) Family entertainment. Free.