MIDDLEBURY — The Cinderella story has been told in many ways, but few with as many laughs as Opera Company of Middlebury’s unique production of Massenet’s “Cendrillon,” which opened Friday at Town Hall Theater. Not only did the regional professional production enjoy the theatrical madness of stage director Douglas Anderson, the music – and particularly the singing – were beautiful and often drop-dead gorgeous.
This “Cinderella,” by the French Romantic composer Jules Massenet (1842-1912), was a huge success when it opened May 24, 1899 in Paris. However, “Cendrillon” is a masterpiece neither musically nor dramatically. The music sounds beautiful but isn’t always compelling; and the story doesn’t quite make sense. That said, some of the musical moments are beyond sublime.
Here’s where Anderson’s creative staging comes in. He has set the traditional tale in the tacky 1980s, adding another level of humor to the already silly storytelling. Contrasting the rest, Cinderella and Prince Charming were cast as slightly nerdy but all-American. Debby Anderson’s delightfully over the top costumes were a big part of the fun (though the fairy godmother La Fée’s costume was in the extreme). So when you weren’t reveling in the music, you were laughing.
Still opera is about and singing, and it was glorious Friday. Mezzo-soprano Lindsay Ohse was simply spectacular in the role of Cendrillon, or Cinderella. Not only did she look the part with her all-American beauty, she plied her golden sound with flexibility, nuance and expressive passion. Her lyricism matched her character.
The singer and actor who matched her all the way was Andy Papas as Cinderella’s henpecked father Pandolfe, whose warm bass-baritone was amazingly expressive. Perhaps the most beautiful moment in the opera was his duet at the beginning of the second half with Ohse’s Cinderella. It was heart wrenching – and gorgeous.
John Riesen was dashing with a brilliant tenor as Prince Charming. Vocally, though, his Italian-style passion didn’t quite match Ohse’s warm French lyricism. Still, it was beautiful singing.
Mezzo-soprano Tara Curtis had wonderful presence, both vocally and theatrically as the haughty and overbearing stepmother Madame de la Haltière. Montpelier bass Erik Kroncke too had real presence as the King. Soprano Cree Carrico sang brilliantly as La Fée.
In fact, there wasn’t a weak performance, vocally or dramatically. The ensemble, seven adults and six “Young Artists,” was a colorful bunch, sang well, and added further theatrical delight.
Principal Guest Conductor Michael Sakir led the 23 members of the Vermont-made professional orchestra effectively and sensitively. Although a bit breathless at first, they settled into delivering the colorful beauty of the rich orchestration, and supporting without ever overpowering the singers. It was real collaboration.
Anderson’s set was an effective mix of mobile finite set pieces against an abstract background, colorfully lit by Neil Curtis. The action was virtually seamless.
Opera Company of Middlebury’s “Cendrillon” was not only great fun, it enjoyed some of the most glorious singing heard in the region.