The Minnesota Opera closed its production of Rossini’s Cinderella on November 7, 2010 to great critical and popular acclaim. Romanian mezzo-soprano Roxana Constantinescu made a triumphant American debut to standing ovations and packed houses. Only 167 seats went unused for the run, with standing room tickets sold to those willing to spend three hours on their feet for this rollicking production. Of Miss Constantinescu, one critic gushed, “From her rich lower register, reminiscent of a vintage port wine, to her radiant top, her singing is seamless. It takes no clairvoyance to foresee a brilliant career for her.” Minnesota Opera Artistic Director Dale Johnson first heard Miss Constantinescu sing at Vienna Staatsoper and persuaded her to make her stateside operatic debut in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. Johnson has promised a return for the charming Romanian in a coming season, but is being coy about exactly when and in what role. The many shouts of “brava!” for her final bow made it clear that Minnesotans will likely come out in large numbers again to see her perform. Even the Tuesday, November 2 Election Night performance was filled. While Minnesotans were split at the ballot box over their new governor, a race so close it is currently in a court-mandated recount, there was no doubt about the landslide box office popularity of Cinderella.
Director Doug Varone proved he is a very funny man. While the humor in some comic operas often lands with a thud, a shrug, and a “I-guess-you-had-to-be-in-Italy” explanation for the laughter void, Varone tickled one guffaw after another from the audience. Known primarily as a choreographer, Varone heads a contemporary dance company that sports his name and is a favored choreographer at the Metropolitan Opera and other major houses. At Minnesota Opera, he most recently directed Faust and Joseph Merrick the Elephant Man, works that did not tax his sense of humor. Having succeeded with such heavy material, Varone was allowed this fall to let loose his innate puckishness. In the program notes, Varone stated, “For this production of Cinderella I have been smitten with a glorious sense of fairy tale. I’ve been in touch with my inner child in directing this terrific cast and in doing so, have remembered what it was like to be an innocent in the world, when the most important aspect of life was about imagination and wonder.” One critic’s response to a Varone directing bit was to call it, “one of the most wildly imaginative things I’ve seen in a theater.” Varone and Constantinescu led a production of Cinderella that still elicits chuckles when people recount it. With the Minnesota winter waiting in the wings, those lucky enough to have tickets to Cinderella were warmed by a joyous and heartfelt evening of opera.