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Peabody Opera Theatre captures the charm of 'Cendrillon'

Wenhui Xu,left, as the Fairy Godmother, and Rebecca Elizabeth Wood as a sleeping Cendrillon, in the Peabody Opera Theatre production of "Cendrillon"
Wenhui Xu,left, as the Fairy Godmother, and Rebecca Elizabeth Wood as a sleeping Cendrillon, in the Peabody Opera Theatre production of "Cendrillon" (Edward S. Davis)

When it comes to evaluating pure enchantment in opera, Humperdinck's "Hansel und Gretel" would probably top most lists. If more companies would give Massenet's "Cendrillon" its due, this exquisite treatment of the Cinderella tale would give those lost kids and wicked witch a run for their money.

Peabody Opera Theatre did its part to spotlight the charms of "Cendrillon" with a pleasant production over the weekend.

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The young cast may not have been uniformly polished in voice or acting, but everyone onstage revealed an appreciation for the subtlety and elegance of the score. The singers were aided greatly by the attentive conducting of Hajime Teri Murai and quite a lot of refined playing by the Peabody Symphony Orchestra.

The composer, who poured some of his most scintillant music into this opera, seemed extra-inspired by opportunities (provided by Henri Cain's libretto) to evoke the fairy world. Those moments yielded particularly nuanced, endearing results in the Peabody staging.

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There were two casts. I heard the one with Rebecca Elizabeth Wood in the title. Her silvery soprano, with a fast vibrato, sent the melodic lines spinning nicely, and she captured the character's longing persuasively. Claire Galloway Weber, in the trouser role of the Prince, sounded tentative at times, but rose to the most lyrical passages effectively.

Wenhui Xu's pearly tone and nimble coloratura hit the spot as La Fee, the fairy godmother. She sounded very much like a soprano with a future. The plush mezzo of Megan Heavner, as the appalling step-mother, also made an impressive mark.

Fitzgerald St. Louis brought a soft-grained baritone and often eloquent styling to the role of Pandolfe, Cendrillon's sympathetic father.

The stepsisters -- Brittani McNeill (Dorothee) and Frances Pollock (Noemie) -- kept up ample physical comedy, no doubt reflecting the guidance of director Jennifer Blades, who has often demonstrated considerable comic skills as a performer around town. The choristers did generally effective work.

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Blades kept the action moving along quite smoothly and engagingly on an economical set by Thomas Bumblauskas, sensitively lit by Douglas Nelson. Colorful costuming from the ever-reliable A.T. Jones and Sons completed the visual picture.

Massenet seems to be a good fit for Peabody Opera Theatre, judging by the memorable "Manon" a few years ago and now this "Cendrillon." There are plenty more gems where those came from.

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