A review by Julia Gasper
There is no opera in the entire repertoire that is more fun than Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella) yet it is rarely performed because it requires so much virtuosity from the singers and also from the orchestra. The overture is not the only part of the galloping score that makes tremendous demands on the strings – and the nerves – of the players, working us up to a pitch of excitement.
The Welsh National Opera production is a tour-de-force, where hilarity and virtuosity go hand-in-hand. In the lead role of Angelina-Cinderella, is Tara Erraught, an Irish soprano who usually sings with the Bavarian State Opera. She brought warmth and grace to a fiendishly difficult rôle, full of embellishments and florid passages of demi-semi-quavers. All of it was carried off with applomb and exquisite taste, and the expression on the face of the Prince (Matteo Macchioni) made it clear that he would fall in love with this nightingale even without any transformation from rags to a grand ball gown.
Macchioni has a grand, satiny tenor voice in the noblest Italian style, and he made a gallant hero. His own part and that of his valet Dandini (Giorgio Caudoro) also feature many elaborate passages of melisma delivered with a splendid flourish. In the rôle of Don Ramiro, Cinderella’s father (Fabio Capitanucci) the vocal gymnastics become comical, an expression of his pomposity and self-importance. The nasty sisters were admirably performed by Aiofe Miskelly and Heather Lowe, delightful sopranos in rôles that make cruelty and villainy so funny, by combining them with vanity, we almost don’t mind. We know there will be a happy ending.
The visual aspects of the production emphasize farce, theatricality, artificiality and stereotypical rôles. Friendly mice in masks scurry around, sometimes nodding, dancing or turning into footmen. The design of costumes owes something to pantomime and something to commedia dell’arte. Jolly though it was, I thought that it was a parody of a parody and was sometimes too exaggerated. Some of the colours were too garish, and the lead charcters, Cinderella and the Prince, often looked uncomfortable in costumes that were, frankly, unflattering. This can detract from an opera that is comedic but also serious on another level.
Rossini’s librettist, Giacopo Ferretti, took the old fairy-tale and turned it into a satire full of ideas from the French Revolutionary period. Cinderella’s family are proud, ambitious, obsessed with rank and wealth. They use her as a servant and an inferior while they put on airs. Instead of a fairy godmother, there is the Prince’s tutor, Alidoro, who counsels him to seek a wife for her merit and avoid all those who are chasing his rank and title. So he changes places with his own valet, goes out in disguise and meets Cinderella who is kind, modest and sincere. He falls in love with her while she is still wearing her rags and carrying a broom. Meanwhile the snobbish sisters fall over themselves to grab the fake prince. Her father gloats over the bribes he will get if his daughter marries a prince. This is a thoughtful take on the old story.
This season from the Welsh National Opera lives up to their reputation for being one of the highlights of the musical year in Oxford, and all of the productions are unmissable.