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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Cenerentola - Opera Buffa in Two Acts (1816)
Libretto by Jacopo Ferretti.
First performed at the Teatro Valle, Rome, 25 January 1817.
Angiolina (Cenerentola), Frederica Von Stade (mezzo); Don Ramiro, Prince of Salerno, Francisco Araiza (ten); Dandini, Romiro’s valet, Claudio Desderi (buffa bar); Don Magnifico, Baron, Paolo Montarsolo (buffa-bass); Alidoro, tutor to Romiro, Paul Plishka (bass); Clorinda, Margherita Guglielmi (sop); Tisbe, Laura Zannini (mezzo)
Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala, Milan/Claudio Abbado
Staged, directed and designed by Jean-Pierre Ponelle
(using Alberto Zedda’s Critical Edition created for the Fondazione Rossini, Pesaro)
Unitel film based on a 1973 production at Teatro Alla Scala, Milan
Sound recorded in Centro Telecinematografico Culturale, Milan, January 1981.
Filmed in Vienna in August and September 1981
Director of photography, David Watkin
Presented in PCM Stereo/5.1 DTS Surround Sound. NTSC/Colour/ 4:3
Menu language English. Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese.
Booklet essay and synopsis in English, German and French
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Both Abbado’s audio recording (DG) and this near contemporaneous film version were based on the performances at La Scala in 1973. They were among the first to use Alberto Zedda’s critical edition of La Cenerentola made for the Rossini Foundation in Pesaro.

Zedda’s edition has greatly helped to establish La Cenerentola in becoming second only to Il Barbiere in terms of popularity among Rossini’s operas. Prior to that edition there was some confusion as to which of the music was by Rossini and which was the work of others. This confusion arose because of the circumstances Rossini found himself in on his arrival in Rome to fulfil a commission for the carnival season. The libretto awaiting him on his arrival in Rome, by Giocomo Ferretti, had not found favour with the ecclesiastical censors who insisted on so many changes that the composer ditched his original plan and, with it, Ferretti’s libretto.

With less than a month to go before the scheduled first night Rossini asked Ferretti to supply a new libretto. Under the pressure of time both composer and librettist had to make compromises. Rossini borrowed the overture from his own La gazzetta written for Naples a mere five months earlier. He also employed a local musician, Luca Angolini, to assist him by composing all the secco recitatives as well as other pieces that are now omitted in performance and recordings, being replaced by music that Rossini himself wrote for a revival of the work in Rome in 1820. These additions replace the music provided by Angolini and constitute the basis of Zedda’s critical edition.

The version on this DVD uses the basic sets, plan and scena from the La Scala production together with some filmed sequences to give added atmosphere. During the overture the viewer is introduced to La Scala, the statues of famous Italian opera composers including Verdi as well as Rossini in the foyer, and into the empty, but resplendent auditorium (Ch 1). The statue of Rossini appears again as whiskered Alidoro becomes a clean-shaven Rossini inviting Cenerentola to the ball in the aria La del ciel nell’arcano profondo (Ch.16). The effect is also heightened with Alidoro cum Rossini having a diffuse glow around him. Of course Alidoro, although designated as the Prince’s tutor and mentor in the opera, is the fairy godmother replacement of the story we know. The visual effect of this scene is to enhance the magic of Alidoro’s arrangement to get Cenerentola to the ball and give credence to his seeing the future for Prince Romiro, and indeed the rest of Magnifico’s family.

The first scene set of Don Magnifico’s house, or decrepit palace, is well thought out with the front as a painted curtain which rolls up to reveal the downstairs kitchen with Cenerentola by the stove and Magnifico in his bedroom. Frederica Von Stade sings a plaintive and pliant Una volta as Clorinda and Tisbe tart themselves up in front of the mirror (Chs. 2-3). Von Stade’s singing throughout is wide ranging in its colour palette and range of vocal expression. There is a slight edge to her tone as there is in Francisco Araiza’s Romiro that gives strength to their interpretations. I doubt there is a better looking pair of lovers in the other versions of this work currently available on DVD. She looks particularly lovely as she arrives at the ball (Ch.21).

Of course, before the ball there is much interplay, particularly between Romiro and Dandini who change places whilst the prince assesses the true feelings of the young females of the house. As Dandini, Claudio Desderi is a little dry toned but his acting and speed of patter make a consummate portrayal with the filming making the most of close-ups of the various facial expressions he adopts as ‘prince’ and valet. There is no better scene than that between Dandini and the Magnifico of Paolo Montarsolo, as the former reveals his true identity in Un segreto importanza (Ch. 29). The camera makes the most of Desderi’s rolling eyes and Montarsolo’s India rubber face as the truth of the deception dawn on him. Earlier Montarsolo had been brilliant as, woken from his dream, he rants on in the cavatina Mei rampolli femmini (Ch.6) as Clorinda and Tisbe give excitable vent to their feelings about the forthcoming arrival of the prince. There is also a nice production touch when in the wine cellar Magnifico is raised on a barrel and marched out past the bust of Rossini (Ch.18). Paolo Montarsolo is a brilliant singing actor and his characterisation of Magnifico, vocally and in acting, is as important a contribution to this film as the handsome appearance of the two lovers. The sisters Clorinda and Tisbe, Margherita Guglielmi and Laura Zannini, act well and sing securely and never let their characterisation descend to slapstick. Behind so much of the goings-on is Alidoro, portrayed here by Paul Plishka with secure vocal tone and imposing stage presence.

The finale when Cenerentola first forgives those who have wronged her in Sposa….Signore perdona (my revenge will be to forgive them, Ch. 38)) and then embarks on her solo Nacqui all’affanto (I was born to pain and tears. Ch. 39) is a vocal tour de force from Von Stade. Throughout, the vocal strengths of this near ideal cast are complemented by Claudio Abbado’s interpretation and the support of his singers. In the parallel Unitel film of Il Barbiere del Siviglia I found him rather rigid, even cold, in his interpretation (review). Eight years later, he seems to have got to grips with Rossini brio in rather the same way that Verdian cantilena always came so naturally to him.

A film such as this has the advantages of no interruptions by applause and a smooth movement of the drama between scenes. The drawback is the synchronisation between the sound-track and the film which, however well done, as here, is never one hundred per cent accurate particularly in facial close-ups which are a dominant feature here.

There is strong competition on DVD in this the second most popular of Rossini’s operas but I found the advantages of this film presentation far outweighed its limitations and provided an entertaining and enjoyable evening at the opera.

Robert J Farr


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