Most of us are used to the Cinderella story with nasty stepmother, bullying sisters and fairy godmother, but Rossini’s opera on the tale, composed in three weeks with libretto by Jacopo Ferretti, gives us a brutal stepfather (no mother around) and no godmother. Instead there is the prince’s tutor who uses wisdom and maybe a bit of magic to bring the story to its familiar happy ending.

Ginger Costa-Jackson (Cinderella) © Sunny Martini
Ginger Costa-Jackson (Cinderella)
© Sunny Martini

The six year-old, well-traveled production mounted by Seattle Opera and sung in Italian – which opened Saturday and runs through the 1st of November – is as fresh and magical as it must have been when first seen.

It’s the concept and imagination of stage director Lindy Hume which makes this production so delicious, ably abetted by production designer Dan Potra, lighting with some wonderful effects by Matthew Marshall and the choreography of associate stage director Dan Pelzig. Not least are the apt supertitles of Jonathan Dean which caught each nuance of the libretto, which might otherwise have been missed, and frequently gained laughs for themselves.

Cinderella’s stepfather, Don Magnifico, has come down in the world, now the proprietor of an Emporium featuring women’s clothes and knickknacks and living above the shop. It’s now around 1840 in England and on stage is a Dickensian chorus: the first performances of this opera were at Teatro Valle in 1817 Rome, which did not permit chorus women, so the music is all for tenor and bass. Hume has righted this by dressing some of the men in drag, retaining their beards and moustaches.

Mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson, in the title role on opening night, has a voice which defies pigeonholing. Her low notes have the organ qualities of an alto, her highest notes and roulades those of a coloratura and her pitch sense is unerring. At the end of each lengthy unaccompanied and acrobatic phrase, she landed true on the note every time and made it all sound easy. With this, she portrayed a gentle, kind and downtrodden young woman in a grey maid’s dress who by the end of the opera has retained the first two attributes and cast off the last.

Maya Gour (Tisbe), Joo Won Kang (Dandini) and Miriam Costa-Jackson (Clorinda) © Sunny Martini
Maya Gour (Tisbe), Joo Won Kang (Dandini) and Miriam Costa-Jackson (Clorinda)
© Sunny Martini

The antics of her sisters, Clorinda (soprano Miriam Costa-Jackson) and Tisbe (mezzo Maya Gour) are over-the-top funny, one in green, the other in red, both singing easily and amazingly while fighting, fussing, preening, arguing and bullying Cinderella. Baritone Peter Kálmán as their father, unkempt and beer-bellied, is a newcomer to Seattle Opera (as are his daughters), a superbly comic actor with a splendid voice, a sheer delight to watch and hear.

On the court side, the Prince’s tutor, Alidoro (Adam Lau with a rich sonorous bass) is treated with contempt by the sisters and with compassion by Cinderella when disguised as a beggar, and it is he who later provides her with a ball dress, tells her to hold her head up and takes her to court.

The prince (tenor Michele Angelini) and his valet Dandini (baritone Joo Won Kang) swap places and scout the town for the right bride for the prince, arriving at the Emporium with full retinue of servants – including footmen, chefs and maids (also in drag). The princely costume of scarlet velvet suit with waistcoat is positively tacky but it’s the only unintentional overkill in the show, while the valet outfit draws the eye for its elegance.

It’s necessary to suspend disbelief at this point as there is a clear disconnect in Hume’s creation as opposed to the story.

Ginger Costa-Jackson (Cinderella) and Michele Angelini (Don Ramiro) © Sunny Martini
Ginger Costa-Jackson (Cinderella) and Michele Angelini (Don Ramiro)
© Sunny Martini

While the sisters are invited to the ball, there is no ball, nor any other guests. Instead, a veiled Cinderella in her ballgown arrives at a huge expanse of green lawn with the palace far in the background, to see her sisters dressed in sports clothes chasing the Prince and Dandini with badminton racquets. We can forgive Hume as this scene is supremely funny, with dinner on the lawn in the midst of a mild earthquake and the singing of uniformly high caliber throughout. When Cinderella rushes away, it’s a bracelet, not a shoe, which is the clue to where the prince will find her.

The second act has a lot of unnecessary padding, but this again is worth it for the enjoyment of seeing more of Don Magnifico and Dandini and, later, a balcony scene reminiscent of other royal balconies, complete with kiss – the hoi polloi waving Union Jacks and forgiveness, grudgingly accepted, for the Don and his daughters.

The cast and the music were well served by the orchestra under the direction of Gary Thor Wedow, a frequent and valued guest at Seattle Opera. But it’s perhaps Hume’s staging which takes the prize.

*****