To generations who grew up with Disney cartoons, the Calgary Opera's production of Cinderella is an eye-opener. To most, Cinderella just isn't Cinderella without singing mice, a pumpkin patch and glass slippers, however, 400 years ago when Rossini wrote the influential opera, the story of the girl who swept cinders was unaffected by the need to please six-year-olds. Cinderella opened in Calgary Opera's new home, the Jubilee Auditorium, to everyone's satisfaction, despite its complete lack of "bippity-boppity-boo."
The opera follows the more traditional tale of La Cenerentola. A girl named Angelina who lives with her terrible step-father Don Magnifico and his two daughters Clorinda and Tisbe. As they've squandered her inheritance, she lives the life of a scullery maid.
The action starts when word comes the prince, Don Ramiro, must find a wife and is hosting a ball to affect that end. The sisters depart, leaving Cinderella behind. However, as must be the case in any opera, the story is not quite so clear--there are arias, a banquet scene and identities yet to be mistaken. It's definitely not the Disney movie.
At the behest of his tutor Alidoro, who's wizardry and match-making hobbies effectively make him the opera's "fairy god mother," Don Ramiro goes to investigate the reported beauties of the Magnifico house disguised as his own valet. He spots the soot-covered beauty and, as the story goes, it's love at first sight. At the ball, the opera takes a detour, making time for mischief while Don Ramiro, still dressed as a valet, and Dandini, the real valet still dressed as a prince, tease the evil step-sisters. An unrecognizable Cinderella appears and leaves Don Ramiro a bracelet, by which to find her.
As a thorough perusing of the program's synopsis suggests, Cinderella is an opera heavily reliant on its characters, and Calgary Opera has pulled together a cast that doesn't disappoint. Though Cinderella and the prince, sung by Margaret Lattimore and Matthew Chellis, are portrayed beautifully, their performances are overshadowed--as is often the case in Cinderella--by the character actors. Brett Polegato, Taras Kulish, Cheryl Hickman and Mia Lennox-Williams (Dandini, Don Magnifico, Clorinda and Tisbe, respectively) are able to use their vocal skills to create really outlandish caricatures who successfully restore the fairy tale's whimsy. Indeed some of the best moments of the production are a result of Dandini's ability to bait the antagonists while conspiring with the audience. Awkwardly prancing around the stage in their petticoats, the overly made-up sisters create a truly loathsome pair, only outdone by their despicable father.
It is a testament to Cinderella's goodness that she is able to forgive her oppressors, and a tribute to family virtues that all she wants is her father's love. Unfortunately, the "to forgive is divine" moral is sullied by the choice to add a meta narrative. The story of an ungrateful, grumpy little girl fills the stage during the overture, and the story unfolds in her dreams. It quickly becomes just too saccharin, when the little girl wakes up to give her parents a big hug, grateful for their love.
Despite the superfluous narrative and the absence of the fairy god mother, Calgary Opera's Cinderella is a strong production, with an impressive chorus behind it. But be quick, once the clock strikes 12, Cinderella will go back to its regular life as a Disney cartoon.