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The Santa Barbara Grand Opera's production of Rossini's "La Cenerentola" (Cinderella) is a magical work that is probably one of Rossini's best operas, and certainly his most underrated. It contains no theatrical magic wands or fairy godmothers, but is reminiscent of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in its sparkling effervescence.

We open with Don Magnifico's two daughters chattering about the Prince's coming to look for a bride & while Cinderella sits by the fire and is ordered to do this and that, and above all, stop singing. When the Prince, disguised as his servant Dandini arrives, they all comment on how ill mannered and foul he is. He sees Cinderella, and "a sweetness I have never known sparkled in her eyes." They fall in love at first sight.

The Prince's high stepping entourage arrives, and Dandini, as the Prince, doesn't have a clue. He's really the valet, and the real Prince rolls his eyes at the ridiculousness of the performance. Fortunately, Don Magnifico and the daughters are also buffoons and are taken in by one of their own.

Cinderella pleads with her stepfather to take her to the ball for only a little while. When the Prince's counselor, Alidoro appears and demands to see the Don's third daughter, he is speechless. He tries to say she died, and maintains that even when Alidoro insists "It says there are three," the Don forbids and threatens Cinderella from saying that she is the third daughter.

At the ball, the sisters vie for the attention of the fake Prince, who has gotten his role down much better by now. Pandemonium breaks out as Cinderella shows up at the ball, removes her veil and everyone almost recognizes her. She and the real Prince are enchanted by each other. Eventually, she turns down "Prince" Dandini for the servant, the real Prince Ramiro. For love, not riches. She gives Ramiro a bracelet, saying that she has an identical one by which he will know her when they meet again and he finds out who she really is.

In Act 2, the male chorus hails Don Magnifico as the steward of the wine cellar. Since he has obviously partaken of too much wine, they sing, dance, and spoof in him. After Cinderella leaves, the Prince reclaims his position from Dandini, who laments his going from all to nothing. The don tries to pry the secret of which daughter he's going to marry from him. When Dandini tells him he's really the valet, he prods the Don with his stick as they chase each other around the room. The don is horrified and has "doublebasses praying in (his) head because he's going to be the laughingstock.

In front of the fire, Cinderella sings a melancholy aria for love and her valet, Prince. The father and daughters return home with lightning as a storm is breaking. The stage is filled with flashes of lightning and Alidoro is like Prospero as the storm rages around, and almost from him. The Prince discovers Cinderella by the bracelets. Dandini spoofs on every one else who are all in shock that the real Prince is in love with Cinderella. In an absolutely delicious sextet, they are all singing in their little groups, the Prince and Cenerentola, the sisters, and the father, while Dandini moves around to them mocking them. The Prince is livid about how they treat Cinderella, but she says "Have pity on them." At court they call her a hypocrite, but she asks pardon for them, and all live happily ever after.

This is a strong cast from top to bottom as is customary with Santa Barbara Grand Opera. Christine Abraham is a beautiful Cinderella. She has every reason to be bitter, but is all love, grace, and goodness. Robert McPherson is a strong Prince Ramiro. Douglas Nagel's Don Magnifico is a powerful buffoon. He's overbearing everywhere, strong and lyrical. Scott Hendricks' Dandini is magical, whether he's the fake Prince, or himself at the end, he has a presence that commands attention. David Stoneman's Alidoro is mystical and magical. In the storm it seems like it emanates from him. At other times he has this knowing presence. He seems a lot like Merlin or Prospero. Deborah Mayhan and Jane Hahn as the stepsisters were not really wicked, but more just thoughtlessly cruel.

"La Cenerentola"is filled with little jewel boxes like the Act 2 sextet. The scene where Cinderella appears at the ball in Act 1, and numerous other ensemble pieces. It's a story about transformation, forgiveness, and redemption. Frances Graffeo led the orchestra in this absolutely enchanting production of Rossini's "La Cenerentola" at The Santa Barbara Grand Opera.

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