The plot hinged on a bracelet, and the director made it work.
Garnett Bruce's lively, lovely production of "Cinderella," running once more on Sunday, April 29, in Overture Hall, takes a form known simply for "beautiful singing" and turns it into full-on Hollywood spectacle.
Bruce updates Gioachino Rossini's 1817 fairy tale opera to a 20th century movie lot, complete with Marx Brothers look-alikes, peacock headdresses and men in tuxedos and tails.
Bruce frames the action with silent movie-style supertitles during the overture, tweaking just a few lines to make Jacopo Ferretti's libretto fit. The prince becomes a director, his tutor Alidoro (the excellent Alan Dunbar) a producer.
The glass slipper, as Rossini wrote, becomes a jeweled bracelet, but the fortune at stake for Cinderella's stepsisters is now a crumbling vaudeville house.
This 200-year transition isn't seamless, but it works. Sung "princesas" in Italian don't make it to the supertitles, but "your director-ness" (ha!) does. The effect is clever, but never so over-the-top as to lose the work's inherent charm.
It helps that Daniela Mack, the mezzo soprano in the title role, is exceptional. With a powerhouse instrument and the acting chops to match, Mack takes a character known even in fairy tales for being a doormat and gives her, quite literally, a voice. And what a voice! Her embellishments in solo arias and ensemble work sound stunning and effortless.
Local tenor Gregory Schmidt plays Ramiro, who dresses up like a chauffeur to test the "truth and honesty" of the Magnifico sisters. With soaring high notes and a warm, rich tone, he's a pleasure to hear and convincing as a movie director looking for the impossible: authenticity in Hollywood.
As the notorious scheming stepsisters, Jamie Van Eyck and Amy Mahoney strike swooning poses and snipe at Cinderella while ably navigating Rossini's challenging score.
Steven Condy, a true comedian, plays their father Don Magnifico with the physical dexterity of a man half his size. He lands a classic vaudeville bit with Dandini (the fine baritone Daniel Belcher), as they toss a hat and cane back and forth downstage.
Condy also nails the bombastic "Intendente? Reggitor?," set in a studio canteen among film stars of the '30s. (The gist of the aria: Anyone who waters down wine should be decapitated. Hear, hear.)
Opera has a reputation, sometimes deserved, for feeling a bit static. Repetition and ponderous arias pose a trap for less inspired directors.
But Bruce's confident staging trusts the music, from maestro John DeMain's responsive orchestra to a well-balanced male chorus and agile staccato in the ensembles.
There's a fight scene going on in the "saloon" over Ramiro and Dandini's shoulders, and a flashy dance number during the Act I finale. So when the singers go back over the same themes — a new girl! who is she? — there's always something else to watch.
Madison Opera's "Cinderella" isn't flawless. There is almost no dramatic tension. One supernumerary can't stand still. Occasionally Rossini's devilishly quick rhythms get the better of the cast, and they fall out of step with DeMain's careful baton.
Still, the final production of the opera season is an unqualified success — dynamic, funny and evocative of everything from Rogers and Hammerstein's musical version to "White Christmas."
Madison Opera has never produced "Cinderella," but audiences may feel like they've known it all along.