The full title of Rossini’s “La Cenerentola,” in English, is “Cinderella, or Goodness Triumphant,” and as you listen to this comic opera’s cheeky, scampering Overture, you realize that goodness’s triumph is really never in doubt. Neither is the excellence of Boston Opera Collaborative’s current production once the curtain rises at the Strand Theatre.
Jacopo Ferretti’s libretto, which is based on the Charles Perrault fairy tale, makes a few changes to the version familiar from the Prokofiev ballet and the Disney animation. The wicked stepmother is here a wicked stepfather with the wickedly funny name of Don Magnifico. There’s no fairy godmother; Cenerentola goes to the ball courtesy of Prince Ramiro’s tutor, Alidoro, to whom she had given bread and coffee when he knocked at Don Magnifico’s door disguised as a beggar. And since no one wants to wait till the second act to hear her ravishing duets with Ramiro, she meets him right off, only she doesn’t know it because he’s changed places with his valet, Dandini, in order to deceive fortune hunters like Cenerentola’s two stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe. Cenerentola and Ramiro fall in love and start singing immediately. Getting to the altar just takes a little longer.
It didn’t take long for Grand Harmonie to put its stamp on the three-hour production Thursday night. This local outfit, which has just concluded its first season, plays classical and Romantic music — Mozart to Brahms — on period instruments. Led by BOC artistic director Andrew Altenbach, the 24-piece orchestra gave the Overture a raw, rustic flavor, with piquant winds and horns. And Altenbach built the drama with such point and purpose, it was as if Rossini were creating a new art form.
There was more good news when the curtain rose. Shane Fuller’s set is anchored by a tall stone hearth with a clipper ship and a small clock on the mantel; behind it are what look like giant sails. Clorinda (Erin Merceruio) bounced up and down while boasting of her chassés (Clorinda aspires to be a ballerina); Tisbe (Holly Seebach) came out and stepped on Clorinda’s foot. Then, on the hearth side of the stage, Cenerentola (Stephanie Scarcella) began “Una volta c’era un re,” her ballad about the king who marries a commoner, and the scene was transformed, as if a fairy godmother had waved her wand.
There are two casts for this production. The one I saw and heard Thursday matched the orchestra in power and personality. Scarcella’s radiant mezzo has depth and luster, and she manages to smile even when she’s singing. It was no surprise to hear Zac Engle’s awkward, earnest Ramiro remark that “something sweet sparkles in her eyes” the moment Cenerentola looked at him. Merceruio’s Clorinda and Seebach’s Tisbe were sexy as well as silly; Evan Ross’s Magnifico blustered with panache. As Dandini, who’s impersonating the prince, Samuel Bowen skipped about like a little boy on holiday. Zachary Ballard gave a quiet authority to Alidoro. The Italian wasn’t just pronounced beautifully, it was phrased beautifully. And the supertitles were easy to read.
I was less taken with Katherine Carter’s staging. The costume concept was muddled modern, Cenerentola in a tank top and jeans, Dandini in a sport coat and shorts, Ramiro and Alidoro in tennis flannels, the chorus men in white polo shirts and shorts and scally caps. And some of the shtick, like having the chorus prance around with their arms in the air, invited the audience to laugh at the production’s expense. Rossini is funnier when the characters take themselves seriously. Then again, nothing could have been funnier, or more Rossinian, than seeing Ross, during the set change in the second act, try to fight his way back onstage to sing just one more aria. If he’d succeeded, the audience wouldn’t have been the loser.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this review misspelled the last name of cast member Evan Ross.