As light and elegant as the wedding cake that fills the stage for the final scene, Rossini's "La Cenerentola'' ("Cinderella'') is helping to usher out the Metropolitan Opera season -- providing a nice contrast to the heavier diet of Wagner's "Ring'' cycle.
Friday night's premiere was a joyful occasion thanks to an outstanding cast, starting with the two lead singers -- Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca and American tenor Lawrence Brownlee.
Garanca, who debuted last year in another Rossini opera, "Il Barbiere di Siviglia,'' has a gorgeous voice that she uses with exceptional skill. Much of Cinderella's music is soft and plaintive, and Garanca sings those phrases with melting tenderness. But when the part calls for coloratura fireworks, as in her final aria, "Non piu mesta,'' she unleashes impressive technique and ringing high notes.
It doesn't hurt that she looks great on stage and conveys a touching sense of vulnerability.
Brownlee, who also debuted in "Barbiere'' two years ago, is that rare phenomenon, a light lyric tenor who can loft effortlessly to a high D with no sense of strain or diminution of quality. His technique is a match for Garanca's, and he deservedly won a huge ovation for Prince Ramiro's big aria, "Si, ritrovarla io giuro.'' Brownlee is one of the few African-American singers currently performing leading roles at the Met, and it's good the company is bringing him back again next season, when he'll appear in Rossini's "Armida'' alongside Renee Fleming.
Much of the genius of "Cenerentola'' lies in its rapid-fire ensembles, and the other singers helped make those sparkle.
Baritone Alessandro Corbelli was a delight as Cinderella's fatuous stepfather, Don Magnifico, and Rachel Durkin and Patricia Risley added to the fun as her stepsisters. Two bass-baritones rounded out the cast: Simone Alberghini as a stylish Dandini, the valet who switches places with the prince, and John Relyea, bringing appropriate solemnity to the role of Alidoro, the prince's tutor.
The production, created 12 years ago for Cecilia Bartoli by Cesare Lievi, remains a curious mix of silliness and eccentric effects (like the dressing room that descends on a giant hook to bring Cinderella her gown for the ball).
Conductor Maurizio Benini had some problems coordinating the singers and the orchestra, but presumably those will be smoothed out by the final performance next Saturday afternoon, to be telecast live into movie theaters in high-definition.
Most of next week -- the last of the season -- is given over to the final performance of the mammoth four-part "Ring'' cycle, a production that is being retired after two decades.