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[whitespace] opera Rossini Rock: Bay Shore Lyric Opera kicks up its heels over 'La Cenerentola.'


All the jokes work in Bay Shore Lyric Opera's version of 'La Cenerentola'

By Scott MacClelland

IF YOU COULD IMAGINE a first-time audience attending an early-19th-century comic opera, sung in an unfamiliar language, you might expect a reaction of confusion or bewilderment. But in Bay Shore Lyric Opera's production of Rossini's La Cenerentola, the stage direction alone makes the comedy so immediate and vivid that no single joke fails to score. As one wag remarked after last Sunday's performance in Capitola, you didn't need the supertitle translations to know what was going on.

Once again, Bay Shore has raised the ante for regional opera. Considering that not every element in this production is on the same level, it gives increasing value to the adage "more than the sum of the parts."

To be sure, Bay Shore has grown from seed money that more resembles a large endowment. But money alone has never been the defining element in Monterey Bay area operatic enterprise. Required as much is an overriding vision that takes account of all elements and strives for high standards.

Credit for that steady--and passionate--view goes to executive director Claire Der Torossian. Stage director Josemaria Condemi, an Adler Fellow at the San Francisco Opera, provided the alchemy that established and sustained the tissue of wit that filled the intimate Capitola Theater.

It is exactly this intimacy that the piece craves, where the characters and the space are in scale, and no seat in the house is far from the stage. Condemi choreographed blocking, posing, facial expressions, physical gestures and asides with fastidious detail and enchanting results.

A parade of sight gags and schtick set off giggles throughout the Sunday matinee. But rather than call attention to itself, it fit within the larger spirit of Rossiniesque comedy as neatly as Cinderella's foot in a glass slipper. (Actually, it was matching bracelets that confirmed her identity, and there was no pumpkin coach for transportation.)

This and delicious costumes by Liz Thurman, sets by Rich Stroup and lighting by Anthony Crawley set the principal singers free to become their characters. Those began with Jennifer Der Torossian and Natasha Hoehn as the stepsisters Clorinda and Thisbe, as comedically painted and physical as Lucille Ball.

Likewise impressive for their vocal impact, they carried the top in the many riotous ensembles. Their father, Don Magnifico, was securely assigned to Emil Cristescu, who applied as much stage smarts to defining his buffo character as to inflecting his bass-baritone.

Mezzo Sonia Gariaeff was Cinderella herself, vocally opulent and theatrically poised between innocence, humility, enthusiasm and generosity. As her character rose with the occasion, so did her singing, arriving full-flowered in the famous final scene, "Nacqui, all-affanno."

Tenor William Gorton as Prince Ramiro, disguised as his own servant while searching for a bride, cut a handsome figure and delivered a bright, focused vocal production that nailed several high C's (and some D's) in his big second-act aria, "Si, ritrovarla."

Neither Gorton nor Gariaeff securely negotiated every note of their coloratura patter, but this was of no consequence compared with the Dandini of bass-baritone Paul Thompson, who sprayed through such passages on good intentions only. However, Thompson was as comedic in his characterization as the best of them, got some of the biggest laughs for his antics and ultimately became as sympathetic as the title character.

Nikolaus Schiffmann was the wise and guiding Alidoro. Alexander Katsman sparked his fine little orchestra through some of Rossini's most irresistible music, not least the overture, a storm sequence and the many big ensembles and finales, those signature set pieces that will vouchsafe revivals far into the future.

La Cenerentola, a Bay Shore Lyric Opera Company production, plays Oct. 13, 20-21, 26-28 and Nov. 4 (Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm) at the Capitola Theater for the Performing Arts, 120 Monterey Ave., Capitola. Tickets are $22-$28. (462.3131)

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From the October 10-17, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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