An enchanting romantic bubble of joy. This is a spectacle to
entrance the ear and delight the eye: singers on top form, a
production team with wit and verve and a dénouement to
show it was all a dream. Quite stunning.
Both Joyce DiDonato (Angelina known as La Cenerentola) and Juan
Diego Flórez (Don Ramiro) have sung their respective roles
many times. In bonus material, Flórez says of Don Ramiro
that “...in terms of acting he’s not particularly
complex ...”. DiDonato says that she knows that the notes
and coloratura “...will be there ...” so that she
can now “... really play with ...” the role. What
neither say is that that knowledge coupled with their quite remarkable bel
ability, enables them to pay added attention to role
incidentals. Flórez holding back at the excesses of the
Dandini of David Menéndez, DiDonato inter-acting with
the ubiquitous rats which watch, comment in mime, move props
and provide the power for DiDonato’s transport to the ball.
DiDonato is the downtrodden believable skivvy whose warm tone
and gentle vibrato just keeps her opening folk-song from descending
into sentimental slush. When she has met her prince - Florez
disguised as his valet Dandini - her confusion is portrayed with
splendid self-effacing innocence: vocal leaps, smooth depths
and controlled piano
. Curiously it is only at the end
of the opera and the concluding rondo that Rossini gives his
leading lady a solo virtuoso number. We have waited long for
these fireworks which DiDonato hinted at throughout, in various
duets and ensembles: but finally she gives a master-class in bel
singing. Here notes hang in the air, there runs cascade
one after another, all with powerful dynamics and all delivered
with no apparent effort. During a trill, time even to tickle
a rat behind the ear. Joyously entertaining.
And no less should be said of Florez. His distinctive ringing
timbre, superb diction, breath control and relaxed stage presence
enfolds us in this magical make-believe. His showpiece aria comes
when he gives up his disguise and reverts to the role of prince
with yet another display of high Cs. This can be, and is here,
a show-stopping aria. Only when he has finally acknowledged the
audience applause can the opera continue.
It hardly needs to be said that together DiDonato and Florez
are formidable. Strong vocal and acting interplay with matching
runs particularly evident when DiDonato has become the ‘princess
for the ball’ and her music has moved from simple skivvy
to more regal complexity.
David Menéndez (Dandini) becomes an excellently extrovert
prince to which assumed role he brings strong comic timing, vocal
strength and a nice touch of servant humour. His arrival on a
horse with heads at each end presages his mock heroic aria. He
cannot contain his extravagances which Florez fails to restrain
by facial and body language. Strong but not deep vocal colours,
remarkable speed of patter pronunciation and an affected insouciant
style distinguish this Dandini.
Bruno de Simone sets himself precisely as the self-deluding Don
Magnifico. Although there is a raised walking stick, there is
no real suggestion of unpleasant violence towards his skivvy.
If his opening aria does not quite have the power, by the time
he reaches his visit to the cellar, power has built up. His comic
timing throughout is excellent and particularly with the Dandini
of Menéndez when he learns of the role switch.
Christina Obregón, as his daughter Clorinda, adds to her
role by giving occasional very effective glances at the camera,
amusingly taking us into her confidence. Obregón has a
clear ringing tone which shines very brightly in the ensembles,
of which more anon. Her sister Tisbe sung by Itxaro Mentxaka
matches her vocally and in their role interplay but occasionally
seems uninvolved in the ensembles.
The comfortable youthful tone of Simón Orfila is Alidoro,
Don Ramiro’s tutor. If not quite the obsequious disguised
beggar, then in his transformation revealing himself as the tutor
he does indeed become the over-arching master of events with
power, precise diction and dark colours. His aria Là del
ciel nell’arcano profondo
(DVD1 track 13) delivered
in a black cloak decorated with stars has more than a flavour
of Sarastro, emphasised by a single up-light casting his face
in dark relief: powerfully effective.
If the solo voices are important, the combination of them for
the duets and ensembles is fundamental. Captivating as the passages
of solo singing are the opera drives forward on the interplay
of voices and characters. Rossini’s biographer Stendhal,
who did not like this opera, was forced to concede that the duet
in act one, Zitto zitto, piano piano
(DVD1 track 16) has
a “... sustained, magnificent pace, and ... is one of the
liveliest things that Rossini has ever composed, at least in
that brisk and impetuous style which is the most characteristic
feature of his especial genius. This is the field which is peculiarly
his own, and in which no other musician, not even the greatest,
can claim to be his master.”: Stendhal Life of Rossini
John Calder (1956) p.251. The ensembles are illustrations of
exciting composing. Couple that with vocal accuracy and excellent
balance between the voices; despatch them all with aplomb from
quartet through quintet to sextet and Rossini aficionados should
be in seventh heaven.
And all that says nothing of the enthusiasm of the chorus for
involvement in the entertainment; all crisp accuracy and only
too ready to break into deliciously choreographed dance movements.
The orchestral strength lies in its simpatico
to the events on stage. Perhaps not the lightest of touches nor
the most exciting crescendos but never competing with the stage
events, not even in the sextets at forte. As an aside I much
enjoyed the camera work during the sinfonia focusing on the instrument(s)
then producing the dominant sound; as I did the wind machine
and thunder sheet on stage for the storm.
I have left the production team until last to give myself time
and space to justify all that can be said. Whilst from time to
time I thought the stage became too busy with events just glimpsed
during an aria, or the ubiquitous rats becoming too centre action,
these are but trifling quibbles. A simple set of back wall with
balcony, side steps down and a huge hearth with a chimney breast
that rose to reveal double doors as palace entrance. Nowt special
there. No indeed, but then add internal or back lit remarkable
psychedelic colours for the floor and wall for different scenes;
add a frame of mirrors large enough to comprise swinging doors
for stage exits that transforms itself into the picture of a
coach; add a model coach silhouetted on the balcony and then
breaking down when moved across stage front; and that is really
only the half of it. Add costumes of stunning vivacity for all
including purple wigs for the chorus over red yellow and brown
costumes hinting at Greek guard of honour style. It all sounds
horribly garish - which is precisely what it is not. This is
the Catalan theatre group production team led by Joan Font of
Barcelona’s Comediants whose original approach contributes
greatly to the fun. With only the odd snip here and there, Alidoro
seems to suffer the most, it is a pleasure to write that this
performance is indeed that of Rossini’s opera: no directorial
interference with that: what you get is what is says on the DVD
box: Rossini’s La Cenerentola
This DVD is entering a crowded market place. My other two personal
favourites are the 1981 Jean-Pierre Ponnelle film version of
the classic 1973 La Scala production (Deutsche Grammophon 00440
073 4096) and the Glyndebourne of 2005 directed by Sir Peter
Hall (Opus Arte OA 0944D). The Ponnelle is all you would expect
with frequent scene changes, drapes that rise to reveal rooms
and repeated close-ups. The heroine is Frederica von Stade as
Cenerentola and Francisco Araiza as Don Ramiro producing a truly
polished performance. Paolo Montarsolo is a memorable Don Magnifico.
The Glyndebourne production is much more of an adult affair.
No pantomime here. There is even a hint of unpleasantness from
the Don Magnifico of Luciano Di Pasquale. Ruxandra Donose as
Cenerentola is not always the subservient skivvy. In the final
scene she takes centre-stage leaving The Don Ramiro of Maxim
Mironov at the side. This an assertive heroine suggesting that
Don Ramiro might not have quite the idyllic life that he expected.
Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic producing
a lighter touch, stronger dynamics and more exaggerated tempos.
Therefore where would you place this DVD in that scheme of things?
Answer: it is significantly different, but unhesitatingly it
takes its place as an equal, precisely because of those differences.
It was released in January 2010 whereas I would have expected
a November release for the Christmas market. After all it is
a fantastical pantomime for the very young and a spectacular
Rossini-fest for the not so young.