Laughing out loud at the opera is not something you expect to do particularly often, but the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of La Cenerentola afforded so many hilarious moments that the amusements were frequent. It was by no means a frothy performance either, with world class singing at the fore, and convincing, sometimes quite poignant acting throughout.

Isabel Leonard (Cenerentola) © Todd Rosenberg
Isabel Leonard (Cenerentola)
© Todd Rosenberg
 

Isabel Leonard coupled gorgeous singing with very strong acting. Her Angelina was unfailingly delightful, and at the same time entirely human and believable. Leonard created a sympathetic character, an eternal optimist in the face of constant bullying from her stepsisters and Don Magnifico. Her metamorphosis from the doleful opening aria, “Una volta c’era un re”, to the cheery “Non piú mesta” finale was a joy to watch unfolding. Leonard’s coloratura, bell-like in its clear pitch, and projection are impressive in their own right, but it’s her commitment to the character that is truly special. Whether Angelina was waltzing around the fireplace as in a daydream, placating her stepsisters, or falling for Don Ramiro, one got the sense Leonard understood and got on very well with her character.

Lawrence Brownlee, in his Lyric debut, was an impressive Don Ramiro. The duets with Leonard were lovely, and he shone especially bright in the famous aria “Si, ritrovarla io giuro”. A tour de force throughout, the high Cs in the cabaletta brimmed with confidence and presence. Brownlee was also a fine actor, producing many comedic moments with his interactions with Dandini, Vito Priante. Another Lyric debutant, Priante was an appropriately foppish Dandini, and one of the funniest cast members. His singing was of a very high standard, with excellent, resonant projection.

Lawrence Brownlee (Don Ramiro) © Todd Rosenberg
Lawrence Brownlee (Don Ramiro)
© Todd Rosenberg
 

Often paired with Dandini was Alessandro Corbelli's Don Magnifico. Corbelli has the blustering pomposity of this buffa role down pat, and was also vocally agile in his opening aria, “Miei rampolli femminini”. His daughters Clorinda and Tisbe were sung with relish by Diana Newman and Annie Rosen, respectively. These perfectly horrible characters were absolutely hilarious and backed up their antics with excellent singing.

Alessandro Corbelli (Don Magnifico) and Christian Van Horn (Alidoro) © Todd Rosenberg
Alessandro Corbelli (Don Magnifico) and Christian Van Horn (Alidoro)
© Todd Rosenberg
Probably the least funny character in this opera is Alidoro, whose role as fairy godfather is a bit serious. Despite less of a chance to draw laughs, Christian Van Horn still impressed with his commanding bass presence. His aria “La del ciel nel arcano profondo” was handled superbly, an unusually acrobatic aria for low voice.

The men’s chorus that pervade the opera sang with strong ensemble and an awareness of the projection limits of the cast members they accompanied. Zany humor was also provided by the chorus, not the least of which occurred in the first act’s synchronized banana peeling.

Beyond the arias, the pairing of director Joan Font with Joan Guillén, set and costume designer, made for a vivid and whimsical Rossini staging. From Clorinda and Tisbe’s garish wigs to the cutesy rat ballet corps, the artistic decisions contributed a great deal of fun to the proceedings. Cleverly, the main set could flip easily from Don Magnifico’s home and Don Ramiro’s palace for an efficient production. Choreographer Xevi Dorca was also an immense boon to the production in his work with the main characters’ movements, and the rats’ ballet. Clorinda and Tisbe in particular benefited from some ridiculous choreographed movements to emphasize their definite lack of beauty and grace. The rats served multiple purposes, from stage crew, to plot exposition (including a risible moment in the second act, wheeling a toy carriage around to show the prince caught in a storm), and finally, delightful moments of modern dance choreography. The work that went into staging greatly enhanced the already excellent cast. 

Music director Sir Andrew Davis conducted the Lyric Opera Orchestra, leading a fine evening of playing. The orchestra was balanced well with the singers, commendably so in the trickier group numbers. In the places where the orchestra played alone, phrasings were shaped in novel and sensitive ways for an exciting interpretation of Rossini’s score.

*****