Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘La Cenerentola (Cinderella)’ highlights kindness over a glass slipper
Who doesn’t know the story of Cinderella, the unloved stepdaughter used by her relatives as their maid until by magical intervention she finds true love with a prince? In the new Boston Lyric Opera production of “La Cenerentola,” Italian for Cinderella, kindness and wisdom, instead of a glass slipper, guide the heroine to her prince.
With music by Gioachino Rossini and a libretto by Jacopo Ferretti, the opera, sung in Italian with English surtitles, will be directed by Dawn M. Simmons, the award-winning artistic director of Front Porch Arts Collective, a Black theatre company committed to advancing racial equity in Boston through theater. “La Cenerentola” will be on stage Nov. 8, 10 and 12 at Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre.
In 1817, when Rossini premiered his “La Cenerentola” in Rome, its stage set evoked the seaside city of Salerno, Italy. In the BLO production, Simmons and her creative team shift the tale to another seaside city — Boston.
“We’re taking this story into our city and our time,” says Simmons by phone, a week ahead of rehearsals. “Its casting and staging reflect what is unique about our town and what we champion. We have a multicultural cast. The audience will see a mix of people on stage. And the sets will show scenes of Beacon Hill and its cobblestone streets and the glass towers of the Seaport, contrasting the old wealth of the prince’s family with the new money of the heroine’s stepfather. Costumes too are contemporary, with nods to pop and social media culture.”
Angelina, the Cinderella figure, will be performed by Cecelia Hall, and Levy Sekgapane has the role of Prince Ramiro. Brandon Cedel is Angelina’s stepfather, Don Magnifico, and her stepsisters are Dana Varga and Alexis Peart, who is the 2002-2004 BLO Emerging Artist. Prince Ramiro’s valet, Dandini, is performed by Levi Hernandez; and Philip Lima is the prince’s tutor, Alidoro. David Angus, BLO’s music director, will conduct the 42-piece BLO Orchestra.
Sets are designed by Jenna McFarland Lord, who teaches set design at Boston Arts Academy, the city’s public high school for the arts. Costumes are by Trevor Bowen.
“In opera, the music does the storytelling,” says Simmons, who is directing her first opera. “I create the beautiful wrapping within which you experience the music and singing. The staging provides a gorgeous frame that makes the story relatable for the audience. The storytelling starts with Angelina’s haunting song about finding love. Her stepfamily has turned her into their housekeeper. When her mother was alive, she was loved and valued. She is looking for that again.”
Simmons finds that the Cinderella story, like the Lenelle Moïse play, “K-I-S-S-I-N-G,” which she recently staged in a Front Porch Arts Collective coproduction with Huntington Theatre Company, lends itself to humor. She also cited the light touch of earlier renderings of “La Cenerentola,” such as Shelley Duvall’s “Faerie Tale Theatre” version and “Glass Slipper,” a 1955 movie adaptation starring Leslie Caron.
“We are telling an elegant love story that can be both tongue-in-cheek and sincere,” says Simmons. “This is a story of how two people from different walks of life and social classes come to be seen and loved for themselves.”