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Rossini, La Cenerentola: at the Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm 31.5.2008 (GF)

Directed by Irina Brook
Sets by Noëlle Ginefri
Costumes by Sylvie Martin-Hyszka
Choreography by Cécile Bon
Lighting design by Zerlina Hughes/Arnaud Jung

Ramiro – Daniel Behle
Dandini – Jesper Taube
Don Magnifico – Bruno Praticò
Tisbe – Katarina Leoson
Clorinda – Karin Ingebäck
Angelina – Malena Ernman
Alidoro – Lennart Forsén
Royal Opera Male Chorus and Orchestra/Walter Attanasi

Rossini’s delectable comedy La Cenerentola has not been a frequent guest in Stockholm. Fragments of it was performed four times in 1843 but then she was unseen and unheard until 1972, when Malmö brought their production to the Capital for three performances. I saw it then but missed the next opportunity a decade later when it was staged at the Drottningholm Court Theatre, so I had to wait another 25 years for this production.

There are several ways of staging La Cenerentola. In the Estonian National Opera’s production, which I reviewed a little more than half a year ago (review), the frame story played in the present day living room of Don Magnifico, but when the ‘fairy tale’ started to unfold the action was transported to Rossini’s time, only to, in the end, move back to the present time, where Angelina was again cleaning the floor. What had taken part in between was a dream. In the Stockholm production, which isn’t brand new: it was originally presented at the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées and has also been seen in Bologna, the long first scene is played at Don Magnifico’s bar in New York, quite worn and shabby, while the scenes at the palace of the prince take place in a fashionable ultra-modern flat, sparsely furnished but truly elegant – the most striking details two enormous glass shoes in the background, a reference to the original tale by Charles Perrault.

Ramiro – Daniel Behle  and Angelina – Malena Ernman

It is a constantly entertaining performance, filled with gags and humoristic twists. A slapstick farce is just around the corner but it never goes off the rails and with a splendid cast of actors who clearly enjoy the production the three hours pass by in no time, fizzing with high spirits. More than in any other performance I have seen it is Alidoro who directs the complications – always appearing in various disguises and with a dazzlingly white smile. He is a kind of puppet master, which is especially obvious in an ensemble, where he directs every minor movement, every start of a phrase – like a miming prompter.

The whole direction is utterly musical and very often even the tiniest detail is timed with the music, where rhythmic movements are essential. I won’t reveal all the amusing things that happen during the evening but it was a long time since I heard an opera audience laughing so much – those infectious laughs of total contentment. A contributing factor is no doubt also Lasse Zilliacus’s virtuoso translation for the surtitles, suitably modernized. The performance was sung in Italian – and I am not sure if there has been some slight modifications there too – and with one of the great Italian buffo basses in the role of Don Magnifico it was a pleasure to hear the patter song with such ease and authenticity.

Bruno Praticò was in splendid voice and he is of course an old hand at comedy with magnifico timing and expressivity. He even made a solo contribution with no connection at all with Rossini, appearing in while bathrobe in front of the black curtain, performing Domenico Modugno’s old hit song Volare (which actually became a world hit exactly fifty years ago) amended with hilarious choreography, until he was forcibly thrown out by Alidoro, Lennart Forsén, who turned out to have outstanding comic talent – and of course his well modulated bass voice was in first-class condition. Jesper Taube grabbed every opportunity to make a real dandy out of Dandini and he also impressed through his florid singing. Katarina Leoson and Karin Ingebäck were vampish and bitchy as the two sisters and their make-up scene, shown on a gigantic screen, was charmingly grotesque.

Ramiro was another guest to the house, the German tenor Daniel Behle, and here was a singer with a superb Rossini voice: mellifluous, agile, beautiful, technically spotless and with enough heft to make his top notes ring out – in fact some of the most refined and vital Rossini singing I have heard in the theatre for quite some time. Malena Ernman has for a number of years been one of the most versatile of Swedish singers, not only in opera but she sometimes also ventures into jazz with equally good result. Her Cenerentola was to begin with bespectacled and when she took off her glasses she managed to do all the clumsy things a short-sighted person does, including banging into a wall with almost scaring realism. Hers is a mezzo-soprano without the booming low register of some Italian singers of the past but with a lightness of tone that made her stand out as weak and innocent. Her coloratura was however also in excellent order, and made us realise that this was after all a girl with a mind of her own – in spite of all the browbeating from her stepsisters and stepfather. Her final aria was superb in all respects.

The conductor Walter Attanasi has conducted opera and concerts around the world and he led a well paced performance, slightly on the cool side. The men from the Royal Opera Chorus had a busy evening, popping in and out in a diversity of functions.

There are a few more performances of La Cenerentola in June but there will be plenty of opportunity to see it next season. The standing ovations at the premiere were well deserved.

Göran Forsling

Pictures © Carl Thorborg

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