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Opera Review

La Cenerentola


Of all places to find love, the Dunster House dining hall is probably not the first that comes to mind. But perhaps we’re just looking in the wrong places.

Indeed, love—along with mistaken identities, evil stepsisters, drunk courtiers and a fairy-tale wedding—is the crux of “La Cenerentola,” which the Dunster House Opera (DHO) society recently adapted for its engaging 2003 spring production. And the show does indeed take place in the Dunster House dining hall, half of which production designer John H. Herndon ’04 has transformed into a impressive stage.

Using an English version of the Italian original (adapted by Daniel Pippin), the DHO has managed to put on Gioachino Rossini’s famous 1817 opera with both aplomb and creativity. Pippin’s clever English rendition doubtlessly makes the opera much more accessible to those not already enamored with the art form.

“La Cenerentola,” which follows the Cinderella tale almost to a tee, plays a few of its own tricks on the classic story: Prince Charming (the Italian Prince Ramiro, played by Frank C. Napolitano ’05) disguises himself as his personal valet (all the better to be the voyeur with, my dear!), and a pair of golden bracelets replaces the glass slipper Cinderella leaves on the ballroom steps, so that none of the actors go unshod—a distinct taboo in the days of Roman censors.

Talented costume designers Katherine S. Dain ’04 and Caroline T. Koo ’04 miss no details, using a seemingly boundless imagination to craft elaborate frocks and extravagant dresses that suit each of their characters, in all senses. Jealous stepsisters Clorinda and Tisbe wear gaudy gowns appropriate to their rather foul—if extremely entertaining—temperaments, while Cinderella (or Angelina, as Rossini dubbed her) emerges radiant from her tattered rags in a sparkling white wedding gown sans veil.

Notable among the cast of excellent singers is Cinderella herself, played by the stellar Lara M. Hirner ’04, whose clear voice floats effortlessly, not to mention accurately, from low note to high note—and hits every emotional note in between. Patrick J. Bradley ’05 makes a lanky, pompous and more humorous than realistic stepfather Don Magnifico, while a hilariously flamboyant Oussama Zahr ’04 plays Dandini, the Prince’s valet—or “Prince-for-a-day,” as he calls himself. The two stepsisters (Allison C. Smith ’06 and Fidelma-Leonor Cobas ’04) are laughably sycophantish, especially when they are upstaged by mistaken identity part deux: Could the dazzling woman at the ball be their tireless servant who toils in the cinders?

Though their voices are occasionally overpowered by the orchestra, which might have benefited from a few more rehearsals, the strong collection of voices makes for an impressive show with a few twists on the familiar story. In this production of “La Cenerentola,” there are no pumpkin stagecoaches, no fairy godmothers and no omnipotent wands. But the DHO cast and crew work more than enough of their own magic to transmogrify the banal into the beautiful. Both Prince and Cinderella find love and beauty in the unlikeliest of places, and so do we. —Tiffany I. Hsieh

“La Cenerentola” plays Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in the Dunster House dining hall.

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