Cinderella on the Beach at the Cumberland
On Saturday, June 12, at the Ascend Amphitheater, as the sun set along the shores of the mighty Cumberland River, Nashville Opera held a beach party. With a completely original staging by John Hoomes, and a number of Nashville cast debuts, the party featured a zany interpretation of Gioachino Rossini’s dramma giocoso, La Cenerenterola that included piles of pink flamingo inflatables, a shark named Bruce and a crystal flip-flop.
Rossini’s Cinderella was first premiered in 1817 in Rome when its composer was just 25 years old. He was then enjoying the extraordinary success of his Il barbiere di Siviglia and was hoping to follow it up with another hit. The story is the same as the 2000-year-old fable, but in Nashville, instead of the ball, Cinderella dreams of attending the beach party where she might meet the Prince dressed as the skipper from Gilligan’s Island. Soprano Emily Fons as the title character was charming and eloquent. A mezzo-soprano, the warmth of her instrument communicated a nuanced interpretation of Rossini’s line and her acting revitalized a character whose arc is cliché at best. In all, she was simply enchanting. As the Prince, Matthew Grills was equally charming. His bright, shiny lyric voice seems to thrive in the upper register without undermining the resonance of his middle or low, his performance of the famous “Si, ritrovarla io guiro” from Act 2, was fantastic.
Of the supporting cast, Bass-baritone Stefano de Peppo’s portrayal of Don Magnifico (Cinderella’s stepfather) was quite funny. His charisma was just strong enough to pull off the shenanigans, and just dark enough to allow us to enjoy his come-uppance. Johnathan Beyer was very well cast as Dandini, the boat mechanic, not only because of his full voice, but also because of his height as he towers over the Prince. Since he and the Prince spend a great deal of time disguised as each other, when they reveal themselves at the end the visual result was great. Christopher Curcuruto was a supportive Aldoro and the sisters Clorinda (Bryn Holdsworth) and Thisbe (Emily Cottam) portrayed an appropriately ridiculous pair.
The biggest kudos go to the ensemble, in that the finales were hilarious. Rossini’s comic ensemble finales can be the most difficult to pull off—if done wrong they just appear to be trivial exercises in voice writing, but when done well, they are fun, silly, magical, and hilarious. Hoomes’ substitution of “a swim” for a supper is downright comic genius. It provided just enough props, from an ocean to Bruce the shark, for the ensemble to be hilarious, but left well enough alone for Rossini’s melodies to find their voices. When the narrator Jonas Grumby, played by a delightful Brian Russell, gets swallowed by the waves, the whole place chuckled.
Costume designer June Kingsbury deserves credit for visually amalgamating “Gilligan’s Island” with “Gidget” as do Propsmaster Lucious Rhoads and Scenic Design Cara Schneider for their iconic Pink Flamingo floats and Crystal flip flops. At the Ascend, more conservative opera fans might lament the lost of acoustic voices, and some of the magic is lost in amplification, but it was a night of great fun and, by the number of children in the audience, a great way to spark the next generation of opera fans. If you missed it, you missed out! Nashville Opera will be announcing their next season soon, check here: https://www.nashvilleopera.org/ There a rumors of a Rigoletto AND a Rheingold—life is truly rich in the Music City!