Cinderella gets the opera treatment at Town Hall Theater

MIDDLEBURY — The Opera Company of Middlebury, now in its 16th season, has mounted another classic opera, updated for the modern audience. Jules Massenet’s “Cendrillon, a Fairy Tale in Four Acts,” directed by OCM artistic director Doug Anderson, is a full production with orchestra, sung in the original French.
Don’t speak French? Don’t worry. Every word of dialogue and song is translated into English, visible on a screen above the stage and synched to the action. But if you’d rather ignore the supertitles, rest assured that “Cendrillon” is  the same Cinderella story you’ve heard since childhood.
Lucette, known as Cendrillon and sung by soprano Lindsay Ohse, has been reduced to little more than a servant in the home of domineering stepmother Madame de la Haltière (Tara Curtis) and two haughty stepsisters, Noémie (Abigail Paschke) and Dorothée (Heather Jones). Her own father, Pandolfe (Andy Papas) is helpless to shield his daughter from their scorn and mistreatment.
IN THIS PRODUCTION, the glass slippers are a pair of very shiny sneakers. Below, Cree Carrico and her ensemble look over a sleeping Cendrillon, played by Lindsay Ohse.
Independent photos/Steve James
Then comes word that Prince Charming (tenor John Riesen) is hosting a grand ball and — if he obeys his father the King (Eric Kroncke) — will choose a wife from among the kingdom’s eligible high society young ladies. Lucette dutifully dresses her sisters for their royal audition. But when left alone, she sings about longing for love and wishes she had been allowed to go to the ball. Finally, exhausted, she takes a nap, and in comes La Fée, or Fairy Godmother (Cree Carrico) who does what only fairy godmothers do. She wakes Lucette to fulfill her heart’s desire, gowns her magnificently for her palace debut, and throws in a pair of enchanted slippers that will magically conceal her identity from her jealous stepfamily. There’s only one catch: Lucette must leave the party at the stroke of midnight.
As it turns out, Prince Charming is acutely bored with the whole dreary business of being a prince and has zero interest in marriage. He meets one wannabe princess after another, sees nothing he desires, dances with nobody, and dismisses every candidate, not at all charmingly; in fact, he is quite rude.
Then, in walks Lucette, and it is mutual and sudden love at first sight. The rest of the company, quickly sensing that the party is over, leaves the pair alone together to sing, dance, and proclaim their love. Lucette flees at midnight, leaving behind in her haste one of the magic slippers, giving the prince his only clue to her identity. (In case you are wondering, Ohse wears a size 10 slipper.) It takes two more acts of glorious music to bring the two together, and they all live happily ever after.
The Opera Company of Middlebury has put our small Vermont town on the national opera map. The company has become a highly desirable gig for opera singers nationwide. This year, when auditions for “Cendrillon” were announced, OCM heard from 500 singers and 33 talent agencies.
OCM’s auditions are unique and are an important element of the company’s success.  “You go and sing an aria, that’s the normal part,” says Ohse, “but then they say, ‘Come on up, have a seat. We want to just talk to you! Which just doesn’t happen anywhere else.” Ohse revealed her hobby of privately playing all of her opera roles on her ukelele, and as you’ll see, Anderson incorporated ukeleles into the production.
“I also had a dream audition,” Riesen said. “I sang Romeo’s aria from Gounod’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ But then they asked if there was anything else about me that they should know. I told them ‘I went to college to play baseball before I could sing at all.’”
Then Riesen sang “What You’d Call a Dream,” a touching memory of a baseball player’s golden moment from the musical “Diamonds.” All six auditioners were left in tears, and he got the part as Prince Charming.
Cendrillon opens Friday, May 31, at  7:30 p.m., at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury with a prosecco reception to follow. Performances continue on June 6 and June 8, at  7:30 p.m., and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, June 2. Don’t miss it!

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