Rossini’s 20th opera and his take on the Cinderella story is his
most popular work after Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The libretto
by Jacopo 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 an entirely
different work to open the Carnival Season on 26 December 1816.
However, on his arrival in Rome in mid-December he found
the Papal Censors had rejected the proposed Ferretti libretto.
At a late night crisis meeting with the impresario and librettist
the subject of Cinderella was agreed, as was a postponed premiere.
With less than a month to go before the new first night both composer
and librettist had to make compromises. Rossini borrowed the overture
from his own farsa La gazzetta, written for Naples a mere
five months earlier (review).
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 generally omitted in performance and recordings,
most of which follow Alberto Zedda’s Critical Edition.
by Paul Curran with sets by Pasquale Grossi and costumes by
Zaira De Vincentiis originated in Naples 2004. Curran justifies
this by drawing attention to the social conflicts inherent in
the social class stresses he sees in the story. It puts the
story precisely in 1912 with the magic fairy tale elements restricted
to a rather zany winged hat that descends onto Alidoro’s head
as he does his transformation of Angiolina. His own transition
from blind man is not managed with conviction (Disc 1 Chs. 20).
By then the good and more variable aspects of the production
and singing were evident and, overall, were successful. The
furnishings were rather posh in Don Magnifico’s supposedly run-down
establishment, but the slick movement and easy mobility of the
sets and drops facilitated quick changes of mood and location
as befits the music and the unfolding plot. The whole was kept
bubbling along by Renato Palumbo’s tempi and pacing that were
as close to ideal as I have heard in this work.
The date of 1912
did impose some restrictions on the costumes. The Magnifico
of Alfonso Antoniozzi, with central hair parting, tended to
look more an Edwardian fop than the dissolute blusterer we are
used to. His lean bass (Disc 1 Ch. 8 and Disc 2 Ch. 3) could
have done with a little more colour. The fact that he looked
too young to be Angiolina’s father was as much to do with Sonia
Ganassi’s rather matronly looks and dress as any fault of his.
Cenerentola’s arrival at the ball in black costume, masked like
beekeeper and with complex headgear, did little to enhance her
role. Although Ganassi sang well overall, and had a thorough
grasp of the nuances of the role, there were times when I was
aware that her voice had not the ease of flexibility in the
decorations that she would have evinced in her younger days.
She concluded the performance with a fine Nacqui all’ affano
(Disc 2 Ch. 18). I was less impressed with Antonio Siragusa’s
portrayal of Don Ramiro. Far too often his stiff facial expression
seemed to reflect an excess of botox rather than emotion, particularly
towards Angiolina. I have seen comments from an august critic
preferring his singing to that of Juan Diego Florez. In that
respect I must sit in the opposing corner. For me his tightly
focused tenor, as heard here, lacks much in the way of a palette
of colour or variety of phrase, although in simple terms he
has potential vocal elegance and a pleasing tone (Disc 2 Ch.
As Alidoro, Simon
Orfilo sang his aria La del ciel (Disc
1 Ch. 21) with aplomb and deserved his reception. But for me
the star of the performance came with the singing and acting
of Marco Vinco as Dandini. In a number of Rossini recordings
from Pesaro, Bad Wildbad as well as from Opera Rara, I have
struggled to see where his lean but musical bass voice was heading,
particularly in roles where he seemed to have to reach downwards
in the bass register. In his first shot at the pivotal role
of Dandini he sings and acts to perfection. His youthful and
elegant figure, well costumed as the supposed Prince and later
as revealed in his true status, contributes to a consummate
portrayal and one that helps hold the production and performance
together. He can play it straight-faced or with humour and he
plays a full part in the humorous duet with Magnifico, Un
segreto d’importanza, as he reveals the fact that he is
the valet not the prince (Disc 2 Ch. 7). The stepsisters acted
and sang well, although one looked a little past her sell-by
date as a potential bride of Ramiro!
With the performance
spread over two discs, with thirty and nineteen Chapter divisions
respectively, the sound is good and clear and enhances the concise
diction of the singers and chorus. The excellent playing of the
orchestra is also heard to good effect. There is a fine introductory
essay by Kenneth Chalmers in the booklet and several colour photographs
of the production. There is plenty of competition on DVD including
the classic Unitel film version based on Jean-Pierre Ponelle’s
1973 production at La Scala under Abbado (review).
More recently, the admired Glyndebourne production has joined
the list. The present production can stand alongside those versions
whilst giving a slightly more updated perspective on the traditional
Robert J Farr