Cendrillon, a little-known jewel by Nicolò Isouard
French Institute Alliance Française’s much smaller Florence Gould Hall, and with Cendrillon by Nicolò Isouard it chose very well indeed. This opéra comique from 1810, with a libretto by Charles Guillaume Étienne after Charles Perrault’s fairy tale, was one of several operas by the Maltese-born French composer that brought him widespread popularity, even reaching the United States. As a product of another tradition, it behaves quite differently from Rossini’s treatment of the same subject, which followed seven years later, yet it constituted a source for the latter’s libretto and, as MSM’s production handily demonstrated, functions alluringly on its own terms. Isouard’s music suggests Cinderella’s natural graciousness by giving her simple strophic solos, while endowing her stepsisters, who are just as prominent, with elaborate, virtuosic arias. Among many inspired touches is a return in choral form of a lilting theme, originally played by horn with harp accompaniment in the overture, to characterize Cinderella’s transformation. The opera also has appealingly developed ensembles and finales. In Arnulfo Maldonado’s sparse but stylish sets, dominated by arched windows and suggestive of art nouveau, the opera was updated, but Dona D. Vaughn’s amusingly inventive production (seen on December 9) did not stress that. In one funny moment, the Baron, Cinderella’s stepfather, looked on proudly as his daughter Clorinde entertained the royal court with a bolero, even mimicking her gestures. And although the spoken dialogue was rendered in English, the stepsisters, after experiencing a setback, reverted to the original French with a cry of ‘Merde!’. Amanda Austin conveyed Cinderella’s charm by patiently deflecting abusive treatment and sang appealingly in her affecting solos. The stepsisters’ more demanding music was handled with aplomb by Hyeree Shin, who dispatched Clorinde’s bolero scintillatingly, and, especially, Abigail Shapiro, whose vibrant, rich-voiced soprano made a high point of Tisbé’s despairing Act 3 aria, a piece of Gluck-like intensity. Like Cinderella, the Prince has music that avoids artifice; his principal solo is a touching minor/major-key romance, which Michael St Peter sang with sweet-voiced sincerity. Marcel Sokalski was on excellent form as the philosopher Alidor, the functional equivalent, as in Rossini’s opera, of Cinderella’s fairy godmother, and William Huyler and Marshall Morrow performed ably as the Baron and Dandini. Pierre Vallet conducted with a fine feeling for the opera’s musical rewards.