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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868).
La Cenerentola, Opera Buffa in Two Acts (1817)
Angiolina, La Cenerentola - Serena Malfi (mezzo-soprano); Don Ramiro, a disguised Prince and her suitor - Juan Francisco Gatell (tenor); Dandini, his servant - Vito Priante (bass); Don Magnifico, Cenerentola’s father - Alessandro Corbelli (buffo bass); Alidoro, Ramiro’s tutor - Ugo Guagliardo (bass); Clorinda, Cenerentola’s step sister -  Damiana Mizzi (soprano); Tisbe, Cenerentola’s step sister - Annunziata Vestri (mezzo-soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro dell’Opera, Rome/Alejo Pérez
rec. 2016
Stage Director, Emma Dante. Set designer, Carmine Maringola. Costume designer, Vanessa Sannino
Lighting Designer, Cristian Zucaro
Sound formats, DTS 5.1. LPCM stereo. Picture format 16:9 NTSC
Choreographic Movements, Manuel Lo Sicco
Video Producer, Hartmut Bender
Booklet notes in English, German French and Italian
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Korean and Japanese
C MAJOR 752408 DVD [2 discs: 162 mins]

In 1814, after the great successes that year of his operas Tancredi, premiered at the La Fenice theatre Venice on February 6th 1813, and L’Italiana in Ageri, premiered at the San Benedetto theatre in the same city on May 22nd of the same year, Rossini, at the age of 22, found himself at the forefront of Italian composers. This led to him being summoned to Naples by the leading impresario of the day, Domenico Barbaja, and appointed as Musical Director of the Royal Theatres of that city, the San Carlo and the Fondo. It was in Naples, with the professional orchestra of the San Carlo theatre, that Rossini composed his nine great opere serie, starting with Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra premiered on 4th October 1815 and concluding with Zelmira on 16th February 1822.

A clause in Rossini’s contract at Naples allowed him to accept odd commissions from other theatres, which Rossini took much advantage of, almost certainly stretching it beyond the limits Barbaja had intended when he brought the composer to Naples. In the first two years of his Naples contract, Rossini composed no fewer than five operas for other cities, including four for Rome. These latter included his seventeenth opera Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Teatro Argentina on 20th February 1816 and his twentieth opera, La Cenerentola at Rome’s Theatre Valle on 25th January 1817.

La Cenerentola, was Rossini’s take on the Cinderella story and 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 at the Teatro Valle, Rome, on December 26th 1816.  However, on his arrival in Rome in mid-December, he found that the papal censors had rejected the proposed libretto provided by Ferretti. At a late-night crisis meeting with the impresario and librettist, the subject of Cinderella was agreed, as was a postponed premiere. Rossini and Ferretti based their libretto mostly on a French version published in 1697 with some aspects deriving from later adaptations, but they also included some original ideas as well. These included some major differences. For example, there is no glass slipper; there is no magic and no fairy Godmother, Cinderella doesn’t have to rush home before midnight and most significantly the stepfather replaces the stepmother. 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. 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 for the Pesaro Rossini Foundation.

This production was mounted to celebrate the bicentenary of the premiere of the opera in Rome. It goes for grandiosity rather than detail with most of the magical aspects stripped away. The largely unchanged and uncluttered, even bare, set, is dominated by a large, stage-wide, two-storey rear wall with ornate windows, a few of which open in the course of the production. The whole is behind a semi-transparent curtain as various other furniture, or stage items, are moved on as. Cinderella herself, the prince and Alidoro are dressed in period, as initially are her family. However, there are spectators and extras portrayed as dancers with large mechanical keys protruding from their spines, including her family in the last scene. Maybe, in the director’s concept, the dancers are representative clones of the heroine, seemingly doomed to repetitive tasks?

As to the singing cast, Italian mezzo Serena Malfi sings well with vocal purity of tone and a variety of colour, and acts convincingly as she portrays Cenerentola’s many vicissitudes. Argentinian tenor Juan Francisco Gatell sings pleasingly and acts with sincerity as Don Romiro, while Vito Priante as his valet Dandini acts well and sings with good tone. Of the lower male voices, Ugo Guagliardo lacks some vocal weight whilst Alessandro Corbelli (b. 1952) as Cenerentola’s father acts everyone else off the stage.  A veteran of twelve roles in nine of Rossini’s operas, he inhabits his role to perfection albeit that his voice has not the vocal velvet of yesteryear. The two stepsisters act interact well and are sufficiently differentiated in physical size and vocal tone. Less satisfactory are the variable tempi of the orchestra and some slapstick elements to the production, particularly the waving around of firearms which have nothing to do with Ferretti’s plot.

Robert J Farr

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