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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Cenerentola (1817)
Opera Buffa in Two Acts. Libretto by Jacopo Ferretti. First performed at the Teatro Valle, Rome, on 25th January 1817.
Angiolina (Cenerentola) - Joyce DiDonato (mezzo); Don Ramiro, Prince of Salerno - José Manuel Zapata (ten); Dandini, Romiro’s valet - Paolo Bordogna (bar); Don Magnifico, Baron - Bruno Pratico (buffa-bass); Alidoro, tutor to Romiro - Luca Pisaroni (bass bar); Clorinda - Patricia Cigna (sop); Tisbe - Martina Borst (mezzo)
Prague Chamber Choir
SWR Radio Orchestra Kaiserslautern/Albert Zedda.
Recorded live on 13 November, 2004 using Alberto Zedda’s Critical Edition.
A co-production between the Rossini In Wildbad festival and SWR Radio Orchestra.
NAXOS 8.660191-92 [79.53 + 74.50]
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La Cenerentola was premiered at the Teatro Valle Rome on 25 January 1817. It is the composer’s most popular work after his Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The libretto by Giacomo Ferretti is not based directly on Charles Perrault’s fairy tale of 1697 but was plagiarised from Pavesi’s Agatina o la virtu premiata, which had its premiere at La Scala in 1814. Originally Rossini was supposed to have set a different work. However, the ecclesiastical censors in Rome 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. 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, which follow Alberto Zedda’s Critical Edition. Zedda is the conductor of this performance and also provides an informative booklet essay that explains the replacements Rossini made with his own compositions when the work was presented in Rome in 1820. There is also an excellent track-related synopsis and welcome artist profiles of the singers, some of whom are new to me.

Zedda’s conducting is finely paced and articulated, as one would expect from a scholar-conductor of his experience who has immersed himself in the existing autographs. There are times when he is more studied than scintillating, but rather that than the stolidity that afflicts the podium on some recorded versions. With the aid of the engineers Zedda reveals the inner textures of Rossini’s invention to advantage and in a most welcome manner. The eponymous heroine is sung by the American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato an alumna of the Houston Opera Studio (class of 1998). She has already made an impact at the best addresses and on record. She has sung Cenerentola at La Scala and is carded to sing Rosina in the new Covent Garden production of Il Barbiere by the Belgium duo of Patrice Courier and Moshe Leiser, conducted by Mark Elder, in December 2005. Her coloratura mezzo has a rich body of tone, more like that of compatriot Jennifer Larmore than Frederica Von Stade, both admired American Cenerentolas and Rosinas. In Warner’s repackaging and re-issue of Larmore’s Cenerentola (link) I admired her vocal flexibility and dramatic intensity. Joyce DiDonato hasn’t quite the interpretive depth of Larmore in the role, but her young flexible voice is most appealing. Her introductory Una volta (CD 1 tr.2 part) does not convey as much pathos as it might whilst her contribution to the final ensemble in particular (CD 2 tr.18 part) is a virtuoso tour de force. Hers is an artistry to be watched in the theatre and on record where she has already made an impact in baroque duets with Patricia Cioffi and a Handel opera, both on the Virgin label.

The Granada-born José Manuel Zapata sings Cenerentola’s prince. He debuted as Albazar in Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia in 2001 and has since sung at the Pesaro Festival. His clean-cut tenor has welcome colour and depth. He does however tend to squeeze the tone a little as he goes up the stave (CD 2 tr.8). With experience and confidence to open out his nicely timbred voice he will be a considerable and welcome addition to the list of Rossini tenors. The remainder of the cast are predominantly Italian and the performance benefits from their facility in their own language in those quick interchanges and ensembles that are at the heart of the work. Each singer does justice to his or her solo opportunities as well, none more so than the redoubtable and justly admired Bruno Pratico as Don Magnifico. There is a current tendency to cast this role with a true bass rather than a character buffa bass. This is fine as long as the singer can get his voice round the quick patter the role demands and avoid tonal bluster or lugubriousness. Pratico has long experience in Rossini’s buffa roles and this is heard to advantage here in Don Magnifico’s solos (CD 1 trs. 4 and 14, CD 2 tr.6) and in ensemble and duet. There is the odd raw patch in his tone but his diction and characterisation more than compensate. The baritone Dandini of Paolo Bordogna is sung with strong tone and steady legato, but he lacks the humorous facility that Bruno Pratico has in his bones and the duet Una segreto di importanzo, when the servant reveals his true identity to Don Magnifico (CD 2 tr.10), loses its ironic humour in consequence. In the third low-voiced role, that of the prince’s tutor, and rather ‘fey’ guide, Alidoro, Luca Pisaroni sings strongly. Named the discovery of the 2001 season at the Vienna State Opera, his steady and sonorous rendition of Rossini’s 1820 aria for Alidoro, La del ciel nell’arcano profondo (CD 1 tr.11), gives hope that the Italian well of basso cantante singers has not run dry. Patricia Cigna as Clorinda sings strongly and admirable characterisation and is well contrasted with the full-toned and equally vocally secure Tisbe of Martina Borst. Under Zedda’s guidance neither is tempted to ‘guy’ their roles. Applause intrudes after solo numbers but it is measured and as La Cenerentola is more an opera of extended ensembles rather than display solos it is not overly intrusive. Nor did I note any intrusive stage noises.

On record La Cenerentola has had a charmed life. Whilst this issue may not challenge established starry cast favourite versions, some of which I discuss in my review of the Warner issue, (link)it not only comes at bargain price but also enables purchasers to hear up and coming singers whose names might otherwise pass by. Zedda and his cast do full justice to his Critical Edition and this recording will find a welcome place among the versions of this ever-captivating work on my shelves. I recommend it to newcomers and old-established Rossini lovers alike.

Robert J Farr

see also review by Goran Forsling who made this an October Recording of the Month




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