We all know the story of Cinderella. It is, as they say, the classic Cinderella story. A neglected but eminently worthy young woman tolerates and even loves her wicked step-family, dutifully suffering their insults and serving them until the day she catches the eye of a prince. Footwear and fairy godmothers are often involved (although in this case it’s a bracelet and the prince’s tutor). For Queen City Opera, Rossini’s adaptation of the classic tale is a perfect fit. QCO performs at the Arts Center at Dunham, a building that has seen better days (and deserves to see them again―it was, after all, designed by the same architectural firm that originally designed Music Hall). The auditorium is small. Most of the seating consists of folding chairs that are level with the orchestra. The set is minimalist―a few papered walls with doors, a table with chairs, two trees and a bench are the bulk of it.
In that setting, the success of the production leans heavily on the talent of the musicians. That design is likely intentional, because the performers deliver talent in droves. Rossini’s music is bubbly, characterized by many instances of rapid-fire, tongue-twisting lyrics at what can generously be describes as a challenging tempo. An early instance between Cinderella and her stepsisters hit every note so perfectly it made my head spin. If you want a glimpse of the sheer volume of musical talent lurking around the Tri-State, do yourself a favor and go see Queen City Opera’s production of Rossini’s “Cinderella.” The space only serves to amplify the professional caliber of the performances from both the orchestra (under the expert direction of Jesse Leong) and the singers. These are primarily young people who will go on to become the opera of the future if they aren’t there already. Hence: a Cinderella story.
Rossini’s opera starts with a wistful Cinderella (Cenerentola) singing a ballad (Una volta c’era un rè) about a king who finds true love in a commoner with a good heart instead of a prideful aristocrat. A series of visitors cause a stir in the house of her stepfather, Baron Magnifico. First a beggar, whom Cinderella feeds as her step-sisters offer only scorn. Then, Prince Ramiro’s courtiers, announcing his imminent arrival to invite the family to a ball where the prince will choose a wife. The prince himself arrives next, disguised as a squire so he can observe the true character of the eligible bachelorettes. Finally, Dandini, the prince’s squire disguised as the prince himself, arrives to much bombast.
Dandini, depicted on stage by Simon Barrad, is a crown jewel of this production. His precise, flamboyant movements evoke the incandescent glee of a lowly servant who has temporarily been given the keys to the kingdom. Barrad plays him almost as a Ferris Bueller or Zak Morris type, complete with freeze-frame moments when he addresses the audience directly (and here acknowledgement is due, no doubt, to stage director Jacquelyn Mouritsen). He serves to amplify the unique aspects of each character as well, gliding effortlessly into deference to the prince, sly prankster with Don Magnifico and his daughters, and over-the-top reverent affection with Cinderella. Surrounded by an excellent cast, Dandini has the most opportunity to tie the production together, and Simon Barrad absolutely nails it.
Queen City Opera, tucked away at the Arts Center at Dunham in West Price Hill, is an absolute gem of our region. We’re incredibly fortunate to have them. Rossini’s “Cinderella” runs this weekend only, with performances on Friday and Sunday. If you’re an opera fan looking for the next generation, this is where you’ll find it. If you’ve never seen an opera and want an introduction, this is where you’ll find it. If you want to see a piece of the origins of a cultural revival that will encourage increased investment in the arts community of Price Hill, it is my earnest hope that this is where you’ll find it.
Zach Moning is the communications manager at ArtsWave. Reach him here with questions or comments about ArtsWave Guide