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Rossini, La Cenerentola: Orchestra and Chorus Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona. Conductor: Patrick Summers. Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona. 2 and 3.1.2008 (JMI)

Production: Barcelona’s Liceu in co- production with Houston, Welsh National Opera and Geneva.

Director: Joan Font
Sets and Costumes: Joan Guillén.
Lighting: Albert Faura.


Angelina:Joyce Di Donato/Silvia Tro Santafé.
Ramiro: Juan Diego Flórez/Barry Banks.
Don Magnifico: Bruno De Simone/Carlos Chausson.
Dandini: David Menéndez/Fabio Capitanucci.
Alidoro: Simon Orfila/Joan Martín-Royo.
Clorinda: Cristina Obregón.
Tisbe: Itxaro Mentkaka

Rossini’s La Cenerentola is supposed to be one of the most popular operas but that's  only half true in Spain. Cenerentola is popular in the sense that it has never disappeared from de main repertory, but performances are not particularly frequent here. To my knowledge, this opera has not been performed in Madrid or Bilbao for more than 7 years, while in Barcelona it has not been on stage since 1991.

It is always a pleasure to see it however, especially if we have the opportunity to see such great stars as Juan Diego Flórez and Joyce DiDonato in the main roles.  Unfortunately, on January 2nd an announcement was made before the curtain went up saying that the Peruvian tenor was suffering from flu, a factor which proved really crucial for the final musical result -  not because of the  singing, but because of all the safeguards that the conductor put into his reading as a consequence. The following day, with the second cast, the musical performance was much better. This may sound odd but it seems the only explanation for such different results in consecutive performances where neither had any weak singing from the principals.

The production is a joint event between Barcelona’s Liceu and Houston Grand Opera, Welsh National Opera and Grand Théâtre de Géneve with stage direction by Joan Font (Les Comediants.) It  had its premiere a year ago in Houston and was also offered in Cardiff in October.  The production is centered on Perrault’s tale and features some dancers disguised as rats: it has simple sets , very colourful costumes and an outstanding lighting plot, which is the main vehicle for scene changes. Mr. Font offers a lively staging ending the opera with the suggestion that all the action has been Angelina’s dream. The direction of an opera buffa like Cenerentola though, needs more in the way of surprises to keep the audience interested and in this case surprises were few and far between.

As I mentioned already, Patrick Summers offered two very different readings of the work
. On the first evening he was particularly uninteresting, especially in the never-ending first act. It felt as though his only job was to control the volume of his forces, which he certainly achieved but  there was more than one problem between pit and stage to the point that Liceu’s Chorus sounded like a group of amateurs, miles away from their normal level of quality. It is true however that things improved to some degree during the second act. The following day, without the 'stars' and flu, he became a real Rossinian conductor and the first act was much more interesting and both Orchestra and Chorus were much better too, with none  of previous night's problems.

American mezzo-soprano Joyce Di Donato is one of the very best Rossinian singers anywhere these days. She has a beautiful voice and she is a wonderful singer generally. Her rendering of “Nacqui all’afano” and the following “Non più mesta” were absolutely among the best that can be heard in the theatre;  worthy of inclusion among the top historical interpretations on record and offering exquisite taste and beauty in the final rondo. Having said this, I should add that there's more to Angelina than this rondo however, although this piece is very important and her interpretation was exceptional. Ms. Di Donato took too many precautions in the rest of the score, as if she was consciously reserving herself for the final moment, so mcuh so that she was sometimes almost  inaudible in ensembles. Overall then, an extraordinary rondo and some quibbles about the rest of her interpretation. 

Spaniard Silvia Tro Santafé was the protagonist in the second cast  and made a more than honourable Angelina. Of course, her final rondo was not at Di Donato’s level, but she was still remarkable in her own way. Her voice is not particularly beautiful, but it is very pleasant and she is a very good singer.

Juan Diego Flórez is the light Rossinian tenor per antonomasia just now and everyone else is inevitably compared with him. Prince Ramiro is not a very exciting role for a singer of his calibre, except for the big aria of the second act. In the end, if there is an outstanding singer in the title role, the Prince takes second place. The announcement of his illness was a setback for the audience, although few effects were noticeable during the first act. Nevertheless, in the showpiece aria he was not at his best. He sang all the notes, but he didn’t finish in the spectacular way that he usually does when not afflicted by a virus.

British tenor Barry Banks was a good Prince too, hampered perhaps by his not too grateful figure, which make him look well short of the Price Charming described by Perrault. His voice is good, not too exciting maybe, but he coped excellently with the huge difficulties of the big aria, included all the stratospheric notes.

In the first cast Bruno De Simone was an acceptable Don Magnifico, although slightly  below what we can expect from this expert singer actor. He is one the great Rossinian buffos, but in this occasion he was not quite at his usual level, perhaps due to the lacklustre musical direction that characterised the evening.

If  there was more life  on stage from  the second cast, much of this was undoubtedly due to Carlos Chausson, who was the centre of all the attention from the audience. A magnifico Don Magnifico, if I can use the Spanish expression. He was simply wonderful whether singing or just acting: his performance was just magisterial, an object   lesson in how to sing this character. When an artist like him assumes the responsibility of taking the opera on his shoulders, the performance is transformed. He was Don Magnifico from his very  first words until his final bow and for completeness I should mention that he was replacing John Del Carlo.

In the first cast Dandini was David Menendez, whose presence was something of a surprise. There was nothing against his interpretation particularlu, but his voice has little interest and this is not a good point in a character like Dandini. Fabio Capitanucci was  much more interesting in the second cast, at least in vocal terms. His is an outstanding baritone among the young generation, worthy to be followed closely.

We had also two Alidoros and both of them were good. Simon Orfila and the young Joan Martin-Royo were the interpreters, the first being more seasoned  with a beautiful but smallish voicem and the second having some problems with  the higher notes.

Cristina Obregón (Clorinda) and Itxaro Mentxaka (Tisbe) were two very good stepsisters in both performances.

The Liceu was sold out on both days. The biggest triumphs were for Di Donato and Chausson and almost at the same level, the marvellous JDF.

José M. Irurzun

Glyn Pursglove reviewed WNO's version of this production in September. (Ed)

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