Sunday, August 21, 2005

The irrepressible Wolf Trap Opera Company concluded its 2005 season Saturday at the Filene Center with a sprightly performance of Gioacchino Rossini’s “La Cenerentola.” Although performed without scenery in front of the onstage orchestra, this “concert version” featured agile young singers performing in contemporary costumes, with wonderful music accentuated by plenty of madcap stage business.

Operatic Cinderellas seem to have become a big deal in Washington recently. The Washington National Opera staged a quirky version of Rossini’s opera at the Kennedy Center a little more than a year ago. The Summer Opera recently concluded a nifty run of Jules Massenet’s lovely, more traditional take on the tale (“Cendrillon”) at Catholic University. And Wolf Trap itself mounted a hilarious, fully staged version of “Cenerentola” in the barns a few seasons back.

Based loosely on a popular French fairy tale and more broadly comic than Massenet’s later effort, Rossini’s musical wand gives Cinderella (whose name is really Angelina) an evil dad (Don Magnifico) instead of a wicked stepmother. And our heroine’s true identity is revealed by means of matching bracelets rather than the famous missing glass slipper in the Walt Disney version.

As Cinderella-Angelina, young mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, who originally hails from Roanoke, was outstanding. Playing a feistier-than-usual protagonist, she negotiated Rossini’s vicious vocal arabesques flawlessly — particularly in her signature final aria — with high notes that sparkled like silver bells and low ones that seemed to cross over into baritone territory. She is clearly a talent to watch.

No slouch in the hero department, tenor Javier Abreu — whose Renfield-like turn as young Tobias in the company’s “Sweeney Todd” earlier this summer was a creepy success — once again turned in a sterling performance, this time as the prince, Don Ramiro. Slight of stature, Mr. Abreu startles with a tenor that alternates thunder with moments of great delicacy laced with deft touches of vocal athleticism.

Remaining cast members also turned in superb if occasionally frenetic performances. As Angelina’s dastardly dad, Don Magnifico, bass Alfonso Antoniozzi was a preening Snidely Whiplash of a villain with low notes and an excellent sense of physical timing. Mugging outrageously and flaunting wardrobes that would instantly win Joan Rivers’ ire — as we should only expect of truly wicked stepsisters — mezzo Audrey Babcock (Tisbe) and soprano Evelyn Pollock (Clorinda) contributed a piquant mix of vocal and physical tension to the action.

As Ramiro’s disguised valet Dandini, baritone Weston Hurt was as notable for his excellent, crisp diction as he was for his deft comic double takes. And as Alidoro, Ramiro’s esteemed former teacher and Angelina’s virtual fairy godfather, bass-baritone Daniel Gross was an authoritative master of the revels, controlling the frenzied action with a profoundly deep voice of great authority.

Conducted by a laid-back Dean Williamson, the WNO Orchestra accompanied the singers with feeling and precision, even on a steamy Virginia evening, and the male chorus was robust and hearty at all the right times. Garnett Bruce’s direction cleverly made the most out of minimal stage resources. And even Wolf Trap’s sometimes iffy miking of its opera singers — unfortunately necessary in such a cavernous space — was generally without mishap, although Mr. Gross’ apparatus occasionally muffled his fine, clear voice.



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