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Camarena subs magnificently for Florez in the Met’s “Cenerentola”

April 22, 2014 at 12:04 pm
Javier Camarena and Joyce DiDonato in Rossini's "La Cenerentola."  Photo: Ken Howard

Javier Camarena and Joyce DiDonato in Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Ken Howard

Javier Camarena is having his moment and enjoying it too. The young Mexican tenor knows just what to do with his sudden celebrity and the apparent vote of confidence the Metropolitan Opera has shown him. Whether because of the announced illness of the scheduled Juan Diego Florez, or because of PR maneuvering, Camarena has stepped into the role of Ramiro for three performances in the company’s revival of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, which opened Monday night.

Cesare Lievi’s incoherent and unattractive 1997 production draws on Magritte-inspired images—puffy white clouds in a bright blue sky, a male chorus in black suits and bowler hats, blue striped wallpaper—for its abstract look (sets and costumes by Maurizio Balò), with apples and an umbrella as prominent props. If there was a pipe, I missed it. There’s a bit of whimsy when the plot-manipulating tutor Alidoro sprouts golden wings (that’s what Alidoro means), and as Ferretti’s libretto doesn’t actually include the familiar glass slippers, a row of shoes lines the front of the stage during the overture.

Conductor Fabio Luisi seemed to be feeling his way though most of Act One, with crisp sound but sluggish tempos that picked up for Act Two. Yet even with the precision of the Met’s male chorus on hand, Luisi never really found the sparkle in Rossini’s score.

What has happened to Luca Pisaroni? As Alidoro, he sounded leaden and looked vacuous, hardly making a case for the inclusion of the dull aria “Là del ciel,” even if Rossini did finally get around to writing it for a revival. The stepsisters are made into sloppy, floppy, deranged marionettes; Rachelle Durkin and Patricia Risley, who dutifully struck their grotesque and unfunny poses (how many times can you fall off a couch?), deserve much better direction.

For the rest of the cast, Rossini’s passagework and patter was a breeze, and Joyce DiDonato led the way with a sensitivity and earnestness that matched the title character’s own, crafting each phrase with beauty and thoughtfulness. There’s no doubt that the sound has lost color and texture, but with spot-on coloratura her final “Non più mesta” went off like clockwork.

As Cinderella’s mean-spirited stepfather Don Magnifico, Alessandro Corbelli displayed all the comic timing, easy declamation, and physical humor a veteran Italian buffo should, with superb patter and mellow tone.

With his lean, well-projected voice and thoroughly enjoyable physical humor, Pietro Spagnoli made a spectacular house debut as Dandini, the valet who poses as his prince in order to snuff out social climbers. Spagnoli discreetly stole every scene and was the only singer who consistently sang florid passages on the breath.

It was Camarena’s night, though, and his winning stage presence, stupendous vocal technique and elegant musicality—in addition to powerful high D in the cadenza to “Sì, ritrovarla io giuro”—earned him huge ovations. He handles Rossini’s fioritura with less legato than Bellini’s, which may be appropriate if not as vocally glamorous, but Camarena floats high phrases stunningly, exuding confidence and a thoroughly believable good humor.

La Cenerentola continues through May 10.  Juan Diego Florez is scheduled to join the production as Don Ramiro on May 2.


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