BARGAIN OF THE MONTH
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868)
La Cenerentola - Dramma giocoso in two acts (1816-1817)
Angelina, known as Cinderella - Joyce DiDonato (mezzo)
Don Ramiro, Prince of Salerno - Juan Diego Flórez (tenor)
Dandini, his valet - David Menéndez (baritone)
Don Magnifico, Baron of Montefiascone - Bruno de Simone (bass)
Clorinda, his daughter - Cristina Obregón (soprano)
Tisbe, his other daughter - Itxaro Mentxaka (mezzo)
Alidoro, a philosopher, Don Ramiro’s tutor - Simón Orfila (bass)
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu / Patrick Summers
Filmed at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, January 2008
Stage Director: Joan Font (Comediants)
Set and costumes: Joan Guillén
Lighting design: Albert Faura
Choreography: Xevi Dorca
Picture Format: 16:9 Widescreen
Region Code: 0 (worldwide)
DVD Format: NTSC
Sound 1: LPCM Stereo; 2: DTS 5.1 Surround
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Catalan, Chinese (opera). English (bonus)
Bonus feature: Performing La Cenerentola: 1. Juan Diego Flórez; 2. Joyce DiDonato;
3. Backstage montage.
DECCA UNITEL CLASSICA 074 3305 [2 DVDs: Opera: 166:00 + Bonus: 13:00]
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 canto 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 canto 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 trans R.C.Coe. 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 approach 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.