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Beg, borrow, steal a ticket

Harvey Steiman
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The one compelling reason to see “La Cenerentola,” the Aspen Opera Theater Center’s first offering of the summer, is the mezzo-soprano singing the title role.

Beg, borrow or steal to get a ticket for Julie Boulianne’s final performance at 7 p.m. Sunday in the Wheeler Opera House. She is the real deal.

Performing with a cast that struggled to get through Rossini’s challenging music for this bel canto masterpiece in Tuesday’s opening night, she sailed through her moments, big and small, and created a character sweet and innocent enough to justify the subtitle Rossini and his librettist, Jacopo Ferretti, appended to this very Italian version of the Cinderella story: “Or Goodness Triumphant.”

Boulianne has the presence to command the stage without histrionics, often by standing there with a gentle smile. She opens her mouth and the sound comes out unforced, yet agile enough to negotiate with ease one of the most difficult coloratura arias ever written, “Nacqui all’affano” in the final act. In interacting with the other singers, she seems a model of generous attention and consistently conjures up a feeling of reality.

Only a first-year student at Julliard, the French Canadian already has sang starring roles at l’Opera Montreal-Rosina in Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” and Annio in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito.”

Aspen is fortunate to be hearing her at this stage of her career, much as audiences might remember fondly the likes of Renee Fleming and Susanne Mentzer when they sang here before becoming stars. The production, directed by Edward Berkeley, resets the story from fairytale times to 1950s America. Angelina, called Cenerentola, lives with her blowhard stepfather, Don Magnifico, and two overprivileged stepsisters in a trailer park.

That’s OK, because Magnifico and the stepsisters are trailer-trashy, but to make the bride-seeking prince, Don Ramiro, a trust fund baby living in a Long Island country club misses his essential goodness. Instead of a fairy godmother Rossini gives ys Alidoro, the prince’s teacher. Instead of a glass slipper, Cenerentola wears a double bracelet and the prince finds her by matching the half she leaves behind at the dance.

As Dandini, the valet who impersonates the prince in Act I so he can determine what the prospective brides really are like, baritone Jose Adan Perez was the best of the male side of the cast, singing easily and demonstrating good comic timing. Likewise the stepsisters, soprano Angelina Mortellaro and mezzo Heather Jewson, created two truly funny characters and sang them decently. But Fabian Robles as Ramiro sounded pinched and forced the higher he sang, Paul An as Alidoro made little impression, and the less said about Eui Jin Kim’s Don Magnifico the better.

Conductor Bruno Cinquegrani got competent playing from the mostly student orchestra, but the sparkly ensembles often threatened to derail. The one that ends Act I landed with a thud. Thanks to Boulianne, however, not only did goodness triumph, but so did the evening.

Making a triumphant return of their own Wednesday in Harris Hall, the four women of the Cavani Quartet, which got its start as Aspen students in 1984, played their first concert here as professionals. The quartet tackled a demanding program of Dvorak, Janacek and Schumann with plenty of gusto.

Despite the occasional ragged pizzicato, these musicians understand what the music means. The Dvorak “American” Quartet conveyed the sense of discovery the composer felt as he wrote it based on music he heard in Iowa and New York. Bartok’s String Quartet No. 2 had an acidulated beauty and the Schumann Piano Quintet in E flat (with faculty pianist Ann Schein), bubbled over with rhythmic vitality. The highlight of the Thursday evening piano-palooza in the Tent, honoring Joseph Kalichstein for his 40 years with the Aspen Music Festival, was a rip-snorting two-piano duet with Yefim Bronfman of Stravinksy’s “The Rite of Spring.” What it lacked in instrumental color it made up for with pounding rhythms.

Duets with Emmanuel Ax and Misha Dichter were less successful, and the second half devolved into a comedy act, opening with a two-piano four-hand version of the “William Tell” overture and finishing with the “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Such transcriptions have one thing in common, Kalichstein deadpanned, “none of them is necessary.” He introduced a bizarre arrangement of music from Bizet’s “Carmen” by admitting that it was so bad one could only enjoy its (unintentional) humor.

But the audience got into the spirit and gave the enthusiastic banging a standing ovation anyway.


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