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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Cenerentola
Ruxandra Donose (Cenerentola), Maxim Mironov (Don Ramiro), Simone Alberghini (Dandini), Luciano di Pasquale (Don Magnifico), Raquela Sheeran (Clorinda), Lucia Cirillo (Tisbe), Nathan Berg (Alidoro)
London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Glyndebourne Chorus/Vladimir Jurowski
rec. live, Glyndebourne, 2 and 4 June 2005
Sound Format PCM Stereo and PCM5.0 Surround; Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; All Regions: Booklet in English, German and French, Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian
Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Danielle de Niese (Rosina), Alessandro Corbelli (Dr Bartolo), Björn Bürger (Figaro), Taylor Stayton (Count Almaviva), Christophoros Stamboglis (Basilio) & Janis Kelly (Berta)
London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Glyndebourne Chorus/Enrique Mazzola
rec. live, Glyndebourne, 21 June 2016
Sound Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround; Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; All Regions: Booklet in English, German, French; Subtitles in English, German, French, Japanese and Korean
Reviewed in surround
OPUS ARTE OABD7253D Blu-ray [2 discs: 359 mins]

These two discs, previously released separately, have been reissued together in a slip case at less than half the original price making this a veritable bargain even if only one of the performances was worth purchasing. As it is we have two very different productions but both are winners. Not having watched either performance before, I would summarise that Il Barbiere di Siviglia is an out and out triumph of both production and performance that bubbles like the best champagne; whilst La Cenerentola is a deeper and darker production, also spectacularly well performed, but justifying Richard Osborne's view that Rossini "is one of the most emotionally complex of nineteenth-century composers."

La Cenerentola is based not on Perrault, as was Massanet's Cendrillon over 80 years later, so there is no role for a Fairy Godmother nor for coaches and mice. This is a human comedy about an aristocratic bully of a father and two sisters whose attitudes towards their step-sister is one of snobbish disdain. Certainly there is comedy to be had from their tenuous grasp of fashionable dress but neither is 'ugly'. What is distinctly ugly in this version is the way Angelina (La Cenerentola) is treated and the decidedly ambiguous morality of the father towards his own daughters Clorinda and Tisbe. For him they serve mainly as a route to increased riches and in Sir Peter Hall's thoughtful production there is a hint of a more abusive relationship. Angelina, despite her lowly status, is as kind and positive towards her step-family as she can be. This trait attracts the itinerant beggar/philosopher Alidoro to declare that all this will change very soon. The visit of the Prince's servant Dandini (posing as his master) and of the Prince himself (posing as the servant!) triggers the events that lead to Angelina capturing the Prince's heart and to ultimate forgiveness all round. This is not so much a fairytale as a gentle satire, ā la Jane Austen, of aristocratic pretentions. This requires the eponymous Cinderella to be quietly melancholy at the start and forgiving and generous at the end, whilst surrounded by squabbling and posing characters throughout. Ruxandra Donose is simply spectacular both as a singer and in her characterisation. It was interesting to compare her with that other supreme Cenerentola, Cecilia Bartoli, whose characterisation for the old Decca/Houston production is intentionally shallower, showing a simpler happiness untroubled by those around her. Donose' Cenerentola is always concerned and less self-confident, making her rise at the end all the more moving. One does not expect to find depth in this story but under the guidance of Vladimir Jurowski and Sir Peter Hall that is achieved. All the main cast, and indeed the minor cast, play their roles well. Maxim Mironov as the Prince, Don Ramiro, is wonderfully positive whilst looking faintly like Little Lord Fauntleroy; Dandini the servant is beautifully sung by Simone Alberghini and manages his character change convincingly. The sisters are far more than mere ciphers in the plot displaying quite different characters, and their revolting father is wonderfully portrayed by Luciano di Pasquale in a spectacularly unclean costume and a wig of great scabrousness.

Musically the score is presented with brisk tempi and tight rhythms with the London Philharmonic sounding miraculously period-aware despite their modern instruments. Jurowski never falters in propelling this complex score, though as a minor aside I did occasionally wonder if the singers in the patter numbers were not minutely behind the orchestra rather than exactly with it. As an extra, Hall and Jurowski give an absorbing extended discussion on the concept and the preparations for this excellent production.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia, performed in 2016 at Glyndebourne and still in repertory, is given a wholly different flavour by director Annabel Arden, the setting making little attempt at realism and seemingly dedicated to being fun to watch. The background is decorative and colourful and the staging implied with minimal furniture. What there is, is heavily used and moved around with breathtaking skill by a very active cast. There are a lot of keyboards in all orientations - save for the fortepiano safely in the pit which stays firmly where it is - and how nice to have that as a continuo instrument rather than the harpsichord. The several stage keyboards are very cleverly used in the choreography of the scenes adding still more frenetic activity to that of the characters. It is possibly one of the best stagings of anything I have ever seen.

Rossini was attracted to Beaumarchais' Figaro Trilogy but regarded Mozart's achievement in The Marriage of Figaro (1786) as effectively the last word on that subject. He was, however, happy to consider the prequel , The Barber of Seville, even though it too had already been successfully adapted to the operatic stage by Paisiello in 1782. Paisiello was not so godlike in the operatic pantheon and Rossini makes much fun of his predecessor to the extent of satirising his version by including part of an aria from "The Useless Precaution" - the subtitle of Paisiello's opera as well as Beaumarchais' original - as part of his plot. There is extensive comedic reference to the older composer within the music too, references which Rossini's audience would have recognised and understood. Rossini's librettist Sterbini was greatly assisted in his writing by Beaumarchais' own wordplay and the result fully matched Rossini's own compositional virtuosity in this opera buffa. The sheer cleverness and wit of all this provides performers with everything they need to show their own abilities. The stellar cast at Glyndebourne needs no further encouragement as they sing and act their way with breathtaking fluency through every twist and turn of the plot. No opportunity is missed for vocal and acting display. Danielle de Niese is simply marvellous, radiating confidence, musical accuracy and magnetic characterisation. She is matched by the subtlety of Alessandro Corbelli as Dr Bartolo, who shows his long familiarity with all matters Rossini in both his singing and his facial expressions; a great performance indeed. Figaro himself is brilliantly taken by Björn Bürger in his debut season in the title role. To have a singer both so skilled and so attractive to watch avoids any possibility one will ask why Rossini did not choose to call the work Rosina after his heroine. Taylor Stayton as Almaviva and Christophoros Stamboglis as Basilio are equally on top of their parts. Janis Kelly as Rosina's maid Berta earns her curtain-call cheers from the audience. Though all these singers are great as soloists one cannot fail to mention the many ensembles with which this score is filled, requiring the highest rhythmic precision. The London Philharmonic under the direction of the marvellous Enrique Mazzola - who also plays stooge to the stage performers on several occasions - are quite magnificent. They display crisp and alert playing including a particularly fine timpanist, as well as excellent continuo cello and fortepiano. When the full ensemble is in action one understands to the full why opera is such a worthwhile art form. The Glyndebourne audience were lucky to see this one but fortunately many more can enjoy it via this top class recording.

Technically both these discs have very fine, I would go so far as to say, outstanding, video and audio, the more remarkable because they differ in age by eleven years. They also both have silence for the menu system, a major change for the better in my book.

Dave Billinge



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