MUSIC REVIEWS: Opera delightful to watch
November 12, 2012
First, a brief explanation of coverage logistics: Because of a long-standing lecture commitment, I missed Thursday’s opening performance at the Musical Arts Center of Massenet’s opera “Cendrillon.” I attended Friday evening to see one cast. Saturday night, when the first night cast sang again, had to be split between “Cendrillon” and a Bloomington Chamber Singers concert of consequence. So, my reaction to that second opera performance is based on only partial viewing.
This IU Opera Theater production came just three-and-a-half years after it was first staged, so — environmentally speaking — proved a familiar and, again, delightful-to-view commodity. The C. David Higgins sets and costumes still amounted appropriately to fairy tale eye candy. Lighting designer Julie Duro added to the atmosphere.
The Belgian-born, French-trained conductor Ronald Zollman, who led the earlier “Cendrillon,” was back in the pit, giving expert and sensitive guidance to the Philharmonic, while carefully keeping eyes and ears on his host of performers on stage.
Fellow Belgian Albert-Andre Lheureux was invited to make his American debut as stage director. A veteran with wide experience in both theater and opera, Lheureux moved the troops dexterously enough. He also seemed aware of when to allow comedy to flourish, when — around the Fairy Godmother — to build on the fantasy element in Massenet’s version of the Cinderella story, and when sadness needed to rule the moment.
An intriguing element in this production was the casting of Prince Charming. Massenet made it a trouser role for soprano. We heard a sometimes-used alternative on Friday and Sunday: a tenor, Michael Brandenburg. For the other performances, mezzo-soprano Sarah Ballman donned the trousers. I heard only the last half of her portrayal but found it to be properly touching. She sang well and made one feel for the forlorn Prince, so love-stricken and unable to accept a future without that missing, small-footed beauty, Cinderella. Her alternate, Brandenburg, recently made it into the semi-finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions. On stage he was a bit the newcomer, but his voice is already resonant, solidly controlled, and has huge potential. He is definitely someone to watch.
Mezzos Jacquelyn Matava (Friday) and Alyssa Martin (Saturday) had the voice and manner for the title role, from downtrodden victim to gracious and triumphant princess. Baritones Preston Orr and Reuben Walker made Pandolfe, Cendrillon’s henpecked father, a character to watch. As the shrewish stepmother, mezzos Jane Rownd and Eileen Jennings flamboyantly stalked stage, Pandolf, Cendrillon and Prince. Buffoonery rightfully dominated the roles of the two stepdaughters, performed with zest by sopranos Abbey Curzon and Anastasia Talley and by mezzos Madolynn Pessin and Amber McKoy.
As the Fairy Godmother, Sandra Periord and Angela Yoon had both the high notes and the ability to maintain equilibrium as they floated high above the stage floor. The other solo roles, the chorus (prepared by William Jon Gray), and the Children’s Chorus (trained by Brent Gault) added most positively to the action and the music.