Review: Lyric Presents Rossini’s Cinderella/La Cenerentola With a Twist

I have four copies of Grimm's Fairy Tales in my library and while I have a weird fondness for dark morality tales, I also enjoy the story of the stepchild who triumphs in the end. The nicer Cinderella/ La Cenerentola is now playing at the Lyric Opera, and it is a lighthearted romp of Gioachino Rossini's signature giocoso music that may call to mind Saturday morning cartoons. The conductor for this production is Yi Chen Lin who was mentored by one of my all-time favorite conductors, Zubin Mehta. Lin does a superb job blending the string pizzicato passages with the rest of the orchestra in perfect balance. This revival is directed by Gregory A. Fortner, also in his Lyric debut. Fortner does a great job at the helm of this unique fairy tale.

In a gender twist, the step-parent is Don Magnifico (Alessandro Corbelli)—a down-at-the-heels Baron who married Cinderella's mother for her money. He had two daughters in tow upon whom he lavished his love and Cinderella's Inheritance. Clorinda is the older sister played by the delightful Teresa Castillo. Tisbe is played with great comic flair by Sophia Maekawa. The lovely and dowdy Cenerentola is sung by Vasilisa Berzhanskaya in her Lyric debut. Tenor Jack Swanson makes his Lyric debut as Prince Ramiro with a fantastic Joshua Hopkins as the valet Dandino. It was wonderful to see bass/baritone Nicholas Newton as the wise tutor Alidoro. I first saw Newton as the father in Humperdink's Hansel and Gretel at Lyric in 2023.

Teresa Castillo, Joshua Hopkins, and Sophia Maekawa. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

There is subterfuge, identity-switching, and some laugh-out-loud moments that keep the show moving and perfectly paced. Prince Ramiro sends Alidoro to the Baron's house as a beggar to test the kindness of the daughters. He also sends Dandino as the Prince as he plays the valet. These twists and turns boost the farcical elements in Cinderella/ La Cenerentola. Berzhanskaya's velvety mezzo-soprano wraps itself around the mournful song that she sings to drive the stepsisters mad. I would have loved to hear her sing something more lighthearted; this version is about morals, forgiveness, and taking the higher ground. Her high notes are crystalline and perfect. I wish that her character wasn't so saintly because it didn't give her acting much dimension.

Castillo and Maekawa are hilarious as the spoiled brat sisters who scream at the beggar when Cinderella gives him food and drink. Castillo previously played a more somber role as Sara Turing in The Life and Death of Alan Turing with Chicago Opera Theater. Costume and set designer Jean-Pierre Ponnelle has the perfect amount of ridiculous for Clorinda and Tisbe. Their dresses are like some of the recent couture with appliques and fluff. One dress looked like a chewable peppermint in the candy dish at Grandma's house. I loved it! Ponnelle also designed the elaborate sets of two castles. The Baron's castle looked haunted with broken spindles and sparse furnishings. Prince Ramiro's castle was a grand structure with sculptured unicorn trim and a garden. Kudos to Sarah Hatten for the wig and makeup design. It is a measure of great skill to pull off a fright wig with red hair, freckles, and a nose wart.

Swanson's voice has a lovely pitch and hits those sweet high tenor notes. However, the melismatic nature of Rossini's score is not his strong suit. In the first act, it sounded like the notes were forced. By the second act, he was much smoother with two back-to-back arias that got applause. Hopkins does a great duet with Corbelli that is comic with a touch of slapstick. Corbelli is perfect as the scheming father hoping to get his pockets lined if one of his daughters marries the Prince. This opening was the 50th anniversary of Corbelli's professional debut, and he is still in fine voice. Hopkins has a great voice and comic chops to boot.

L-R in costume: Joshua Hopkins, Teresa Castillo, Alessandro Corbelli, and Sophia Maekawa, The two performers in red are Lyric Chorus members. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

As with all of the variations of Cinderella, the story is about true love and virtue. This story is based on the folk tales of Giambattista Basile with magic transformations, a shoe, and wicked evil women. It was a nice change to have the man as the opportunist. This story does not feature a shoe but the love story is sweet. I highly recommend Cinderella/ La Cenerentola as a fun time with everything but the pie fight. Also, there were several princesses in the audience adorned in tiaras and tulle.

Cinderella/ La Cenerentola is now playing through February 10 at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. For tickets and information please visit www.lyricopera.org.

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

Did you enjoy this post and our coverage of Chicago’s  arts scene? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation by PayPal. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!

Picture of the author
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.