critics were divided over this production when it first hit
the Glyndebourne stage last summer (2005). Not for a long
time do I recall a production that caused such a spilt of
opinion amongst the scribblers - both paid and unpaid - and
this in itself was enough for me to want to see – long after
the event – what all the fuss was about.
work itself was not immune from comment. One normally erudite
scribe quipped that “it’s not much of a Cinderella story
when all’s said and done”. What I think was being alluded
to was the slight reserve that can enter into Rossini’s writing,
thus allowing him to stand back from the stage action and
comment upon it. Yet there are also times when he seeks to
get into the action by using buffo characterisation,
which the master musical confectioner captures effortlessly
in the score. It is these two elements of the work that can
sit uneasily against one another.
there perhaps is the nub of critical divide – which side
does your personal taste lie on when it comes to the performance
of Rossini opera? This is a question that Sir Peter Hall
develops for contemplation through his staging of the work.
His own opinion is that Rossinian farce is all the funnier
when given deadpan without playing to the usual routines
and stereotypes of the operatic stage. From his resulting
production I can say that he only partially succeeds in convincing
me. Indeed, where he saw seriousness in the production this
can itself be funny, though not in the way he might have
anticipated. Take the ravishing beauties Clorinda and Tisbe:
they appear caricature comic from the start, with overacted
facial expressions and gestures – very far from actual beauty.
It is for me Don Magnifico who pushes the envelope too far,
lunging all too often into stereotypical buffo stage acting.
The fact that Hall let this remain in the production is the
greatest indication that he himself might not have been fully
convinced that Rossini can stand being played straight. As
a consequence this production can be frustrating because
despite paying lip service to an idea it fails to see it
singing also attracted critical plaudits and derision. On
the whole as far as vocal production goes I find it generally
excellent, though again personal taste will enter into it
where individual voices are concerned. Raquela Sheeran and
Lucia Cirillo are well paired as the ‘delightful’ sisters,
and their interaction has a real sense of spontaneity.
di Pasquale brings vocal agility, insight and - as I said
- a touch of buffoonery to the role of Don Magnifico. I am
particularly glad about the last quality being there. Without
it the soufflé would fall rather flat. Simone Alberghini
as Dandini, the nobility impersonating servant, is di Pasquale’s
only comic rival here, but his humour succeeds because of
the strength he gives to his straight-laced assumption – that
is, until the truth is revealed with a masterstroke of Rossinian
Berg’s Alidoro, who sees good where no-one else acknowledges
it, remains a somewhat shady figure, though superbly sung;
but just why does he engineer things so, apart from to find
his master a loving wife? Maxim Mironov may not be everyone’s
Don Ramiro with his high and slightly tight nasal tenor,
though I did not find him displeasing. He acts effectively,
observing before speaking, which one feels is how it should
be with men of real breeding – just look at the alternative
as embodied by Don Magnifico!
Donose as Angelina/Cenerentola attracted a good deal of negative
criticism for her singing and her portrayal of the role,
but in my view this was not wholly justified. Vocally, the
voice is solidly produced even though it’s not a mezzo of
barnstorming proportions. This means that the asides and
introspection that Angelina has to put across contrast well
with the more confident radiance of Cenerentola. If there
is a slight coolness in her assumption I can ascribe it only
to Hall’s non-committal direction. Greater direction in one
viewpoint or another of the work - or even the freedom allowed
to follow her interpretational gut instincts - may have resulted
in greater emotional involvement throughout.
it all is the conducting of Vladimir Jurowski: intelligent,
well phrased, good dynamic sensitivity too, and all achieved
by knowing what he wanted and how to get it.
is highly recommendable for many reasons, but I stop short
of an unqualified recommendation because Peter Hall’s production
will either seem appropriate or it won’t. For my money I
wish he’d taken a less sober approach to it all. Rossini
needs fizz, and this is champagne left uncorked for a touch
too long before pouring.