Pittsburgh Opera puts a few twists on classic 'Cinderella' story

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Romantic comedies aren't always funny. The essential ingredient is a happy denouement, in contrast with tragedies.

It's the impediments along the way that mostly naturally provide the fun, spectacularly so in the case of the stepsisters in “Cinderella.” Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre just completed a run of Sergei Prokofiev's “Cinderella.”

Next up is the most famous operatic treatment of the story, written by Gioacchino Rossini in the early 18th century and filled with effervescent music.

Pittsburgh Opera will present Rossini's “La cenerentola” (Cinderella) at performances starting April 27 at the Benedum Center, Downtown. The cast stars Vivica Genaux as Angelina (Cinderella), Paolo Pecchioli as Don Magnifico (her father) and Arthur Espiritu as the prince, Don Ramiro. Antony Walker will conduct the Pittsburgh Opera orchestra and chorus.

The libretto Rossini used omits the wicked stepmother and fairy godmother and diverts further from the standard version of the story by using a bracelet rather than slippers as the way the prince identifies Cinderella after the ball at which they meet.

Pittsburgh Opera's production is by Kristine McIntyre, who staged “The Marriage of Figaro” for the company in 2010.

“Our costumes and scenery are set in the 1880s,” she says. “Moving it forward to the turn of the century is one of the ways it creates a bit of a ‘My Fair Lady' story. I tend to think of (the opera) as something almost edging toward movie musicals territory.”

Genaux sang the title role in “Cinderella” with the opera here in 2002. She also starred in Rossini's “The Italian Girl in Algiers” in 2009.

Pittsburgh feels like a second home for Genaux because her beloved teacher, Claudia Pinza, lives in Bellevue. In fact, Genaux lived for many years in Bellevue and was in town in January for lessons with Pinza. She now lives near Venice with her Italian husband.

“Cinderella's lovely. I've been singing her for about 20 years now, and it's always really nice to come back to her,” Genaux says. “The thing I like about Cinderella is that she's so altruistic. I've learned a lot from her about how to mellow out and know the right people will come along. She's very karma.”

Tenor Arthur Espiritu is always glad to return to Pittsburgh. Born in the Philippines and raised in New Orleans, he also says he feels Pittsburgh is his second home. He was a resident artist with the opera in 2005-06 and previously returned to sing Tebaldo in Vincenzo Bellini's “The Montagues and the Capulets” in 2008.

Rossini tenor roles fit his voice very well, and as his career has grown, he's sung some Verdi as well.

“I am realistic about my voice,” he says. “Some of Verdi feels low for me, but I had success as the Duke in ‘Rigoletto' because it sits very high.”

The tenor views his character, Don Ramiro, as a good person, inside and out, who does practice a little deception when he dresses up as a servant to make sure he falls in love with the right woman, even though his stature is as a prince.

“It's a very honest, very clear and very morally convoluted feel-good story,” he says. “It just melts your heart when he gets mad with the stepsisters at the end of the opera and Cinderella forgives them. It shows him that she is really a good woman.”

Epiritu's personal life reached a happy denouement at the end of last year when he tied the knot.

“Christina is a music teacher. We met in the Philippines when I was visiting for a gig and did a few master classes. We got married at the end of the world, at least according to the Mayan calendar, on Dec. 21, 2012.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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