Following on from Massenet’s dreamlike, ambiguous Cendrillon I took a look at a fairly recent recording of Rossini’s much more straightforward, if somewhat moralising, opera buffa on the same theme La Cenerentola. There’s no magic here. The fairy godmother is replaced by the prince’s tutor Alidoro who engineers Angelina’s trip to the ball. There’s no stepmother either but rather a stepfather and it’s unclear what has happened to either of the mothers one imagines must have been involved.
The production in question is by Emma Dante and was recorded at the Teatro dell’opera di Roma in 2016. It’s a bit of a one trick pony. The aesthetic is a bit reminiscent of La Fura del Baus but not really as inventive. It’s bright and cartoonish. The schtick is that the servants; both in the Montefiascone household and at the prince’s court are clockwork. They are played by dancers; sometimes males playing females, and they carry on a jerky, frenetic choreography (Manuela Lo Sicco) pretty much throughout the piece, often doubling in jerky fashion the actions of the principals. Both Angelina and Ramiro (when disguised as Dandini) are dressed identically to the clockwork dolls. At the end Don Magnifico and the sisters are transformed by some non-obvious means into clockwork, signifying, I suppose, the reversal in power dynamics. To be honest, I found the concept got quite tired pretty quickly. The one place the production gets a bit thinky is in Act 2 where Angelina is rather nastily kicked around by the rest of the family suggesting that she’s the victim of domestic violence as well as neglect. I guess a 19th century audience would likely have taken that for granted.
Fortunately, things musical are rather better. It’s a pretty good cast. The Angelina is Serena Malfi who has the ideal Rossini combination of a smokey mezzo and real agility. She’s also a good actress and the final Non più mesta is quite affecting. Don Magnifico is Alessandro Corbelli and his decades of bass buffoing are clearly displayed. Maybe he acts a bit “broad” but the whole production is that way really. The Dandini is Vito Priante, who those who saw Barber of Seville at the COC last time around will know is a highly competent Rossini baritone, and so he appears here. The Don Ramiro is Juan Francisco Gatell. He’s a perfectly sound Rossini tenor with agility and good high notes but he’s perhaps not (yet) in the JDF or Larry Brownlee class. Not at all bad though. I’m more ambivalent about the Alidoro, Ugo Guagliardo. This is one of those Rossini roles that demands a really agile bass which is, of course, a rare thing. He does fine in the ensembles (we’ll come back to that) but to my ear he sounds a bit “goaty” when he has to sing complex solo runs. The sisters are sung by Annunziata Vestri and Damiana Mizzi. Their singing is just fine but they are, unsurprisingly, made to look and act utterly ridiculously which is a bit rough on two rather attractive young ladies!
Alejo Pérez conducts. He takes the ensembles at a breakneck pace that inevitably reminded me of Speranza Scappucci’s conducting of Barber at the COC. It requires fantastic precision and agility by the singers to pull those off and everybody coped just fine including Guagliardo. Maybe this is what young Rossini conductors expect now and with the generally high technical quality of singers, why not? He relaxes a bit where it makes sense, as in Angelina’s more lyrical numbers, but it’s generally pretty high energy/tempo stuff. All in all I found the music making much more satisfying than the staging.
Technically as a recording it’s fine. It’s mostly quite bright and so not hard to capture for video. Francesca Nesler does a nice, unfussy job of the video direction backed up by excellent video and audio (DTS-HD-MA and stereo) on Blu-ray. There are no extras on the disk. The booklet has a track listing, a synopsis and an essay by the director which explains where she was coming from but doesn’t entirely convince me, any more than the production. Subtitle options are Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Korean and Japanese.
There are surprisingly few modern video recordings of La Cenerentola in the catalogue. Besides this one there’s an early MetHD version and a Peter Hall production from Glyndebourne. I’ve not seen either but they get pretty mixed reviews. The Glyndebourne one has the advantage of also being available in a well priced two disk package with their rather good Barber. You pays your money…