La Cenerentola, London, January 2003
Image: Juan Diego Flórez & Vesselina Kasarova. Source: Music & Vision.
Juan Diego Flórez & Vesselina Kasarova

La Cenerentola Royal Opera House, The Guardian, 10 January 2003
Glowing Cinders revives a cold fire, The Times, 10 January 2003
Rossini spared the panto, Financial Times, 13 January 2003
Una Cenerentola di classe, Il Giornale della Musica, 10 January 2003
La Cenerentola Covent Garden, The Observer, 19 January 2003
Reviews on Opera-L by: Richard Davies; Timothy Oldroyd [external links]
See also the Quotes by Brian Hunt (Evening Standard) and Robert Levine (ClassicsToday
La Cenerentola, Royal Opera House
Erica Jeal, The Guardian, 10 January 2003

Rossini's take on Cinderella is a well-loved comic opera, but it is not exactly a fairy story. Glass slippers and pumpkins are out, the ball is more of a royal at-home, and there's definitely no fairy godmother - unless you count Alidoro, the Prince's wise and avuncular tutor, who "discovers" Cinderella and engineers her visit to the palace.

This is more of a class commentary. And that's how the duo of Patrice Courier and Moshe Leiser treat it. The worldly comedy is nicely handled. Many of the laughs come from satirical swipes at the awful, gold-digging baron Don Magnifico, who, hammed up in great comedy-villain style by Simone Alaimo, deserves all he gets.

But, perhaps in the glimpse into Cinderella's imagination, there's a hint of modern fairy-tale, too. When Alidoro rustles up a sleek sky-blue car as her carriage, he also reveals his party piece: the ability to sprout a fine pair of golden wings. Lorenzo Regazzo is a charming enough Alidoro to ensure that this works. The rest of the cast, most of them returning to this production, work well together. Leah-Marian Jones and Emma Dogliani are lots of fun as the sisters, not so much ugly as ghastly, though you feel a twinge of sympathy for Jones's Tisbe as, eclipsed by Cinderella's radiant entrance in a tastefully spangly gown, she glances down ruefully at her own hopelessly gaudy frock.

Alessandro Corbelli is the bumbling valet Dandini, while the Prince is sung by the starry young tenor Juan Diego Florez, who bounds up to his clarion high notes like an eager puppy.

Newcomer Vesselina Kasarova does not quite have the stage presence to make Rossini's Cinderella into a sympathetic heroine rather than a bit of a moaner, but sings the role beautifully in a mezzo soprano that's velvety rich without being heavy, and makes all the vocal flourishes sound easy.

There are one or two moments of shaky coordination between stage and pit, but Evelino Pido keeps the score zipping along. Ever after is a bit much to ask, but this is definitely one of the Royal Opera's happier evenings.

Glowing Cinders revives a cold fire
Robert Thicknesse, The Times, 10 January 2003

LONDON laid on its first snowfall of the year for the return of Rossini's Cinderella to the Royal Opera House. But a shortage of enchantment inside the house seemed to have a knock-on effect on the weather gods, and when the audience emerged into Bow Street it had all turned to grey slush.
There is a school of thought which holds that Rossini is all style and no substance, a performing seal never happier than when juggling the rings of a pointless patter-song  a kind of Regency Gilbert and Sullivan. It isn't so, of course, but the directorial team of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser provided a thoroughly beautiful evening that is smart, witty, the last word in cool  and perfectly heartless.

Updating Rossini to the 1950s  gorgeous pastel lighting, a powder-blue Rolls-Royce, prom gowns for the horrid sisters, swarming paparazzi straight out of La Dolce Vita  adds little but a surface gloss that hardly illuminates Rossini's sharp-edged tale of "goodness triumphant". Cinders polishes the modish radiator that replaces the fireplace; Alidoro, the stand-in fairy godmother, sprouts golden wings as befits the literal meaning of his name and, in the one concession to fantasy, the scenery parts to reveal a magical starry backdrop of midnight blue.

It is left to the singers to put some soul into a work that is rather more than carefree comedy, and this is a gorgeously matched pair of leads. Vesselina Kasarova, mezzo of the moment  a Bartoli without the heavy breathing  has the lightest of touches in Cinderella's increasingly flowery coloratura, a chocolatey lower range, an appropriately sweet stage presence and a magical way of lightening her tone. Her two renditions of her sad little fireside ditty, one hopeless and one in dreamy post-ball rapture, are a masterclass in the subtle art that reveals the point of Rossini's opera, to wit the transforming power of music.

Meanwhile, Juan Diego Flórez, as Don Ramiro, produces an unforced, fluid stream of sound, including some of the most effortless top Cs in the business.

Fine support, too, particularly from Simone Alaimo as a vastly entertaining wicked stepfather  a buffo patter-merchant who actually sings  and Leah-Marian Jones and Emma Dogliani as the sisters. Lorenzo Regazzo plays Alidoro as cheesy game-show host, and Alessandro Corbelli's Dandini is happily plebeian when pretending to be the prince.

Evelino Pidò leads an orchestra in dreamy form, understated, limpid, with an 18th-century finesse that underplays Rossini's buffoonery but mirrors a stage where crazed ensembles become quite lost amid all that elegance.

A Cenerentola to admire  a lot, in parts  but not to love. And that's only half the point, at best.

Rossini spared the panto
Richard Fairman, Financial Times, 13 January 2003

There are no fairy godmothers or pumpkin coaches in Rossini's telling of the Cinderella tale. What we get is a moral comedy, in which pomposity is pricked, hypocrisy unveiled, and class snobbery upturned -a perfect vehicle for a composer schooled in the hard-bitten world of early 19th-century Italian opera.

The Royal Opera's production, directed by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, casts a keen critical eye over the proceedings. Sentimentality is kept to a minimum and each piece of comedy has some social observation lurking behind it. The period is moved to the postwar deprivation of the 1950s. Newspaper photographers chase after the Prince and a turquoise blue Rolls-Royce takes Cinderella to the ball, but otherwise the two directors do not seem to have had any specific reason in mind. Christian Fenouillat's sets are more in the style of millennium minimalist chic. With colours that are so exquisitely chosen and the potted trees so perfectly placed one hardly notices how little there is to them - designer's sleight-of-hand. Maybe they do cast a sort of spell, after all.

People liked the production when it was new two years ago and most likely will again now. Half the original cast has returned for this revival and the newcomers fit in well enough, chivvied along by Evelino Pidò's light and nimble conducting.

The new Angelina is Vesselina Kasarova, who scored a notable success here in Mozart's La clemenza di Tito. To Rossini she brings expressiveness, a natural agility, a dash of dark Slavic colouring to her low register and the scrupulous care that makes sure every semiquaver is in place. The shoe fits, you might say - well, no, in Rossini's version there actually is no slipper, banned by the papal authorities in case the audience caught a glimpse of a bare ankle. True to the 1950s kitchen-sink realism, Kasarova plays the role less as a loveable little waif, more the downtrodden daily help. When she marries her Prince Charming, this Cinderella wears a royal crown but keeps on her charlady's boots.

By this point in the evening the voice was starting to sound less free, with top notes that were a touch thin and hard, as if being squeezed down a tube. Maybe that was why Kasarova did not really let herself go in Angelina's final number. A shame, as the dazzling finale is pure showbiz, 1817-style. It asks to bring down the house.

Juan Diego Flórez certainly did so in Don Ramiro's solo scene. No wonder they call him God's gift to Rossini tenors. He is tender, brilliant, musical, throws off stunning top Cs, and even looks the epitome of the young Italian romantic lead. Catch him now before the clock strikes midnight and it all turns out to have been an impossible dream.

As fusty and grasping Don Magnifico, the single father seeking to marry off his two ugly daughters, Simone Alaimo turned in an ace comedy routine without resorting to the usual bluster. He does not need to, since his voice is a cut above other buffo basses, marvellously clean and well-focused. Unfortunately, Alessandro Corbelli's Dandini singularly lacked the same qualities. What has happened to his once-sparkling baritone? It lunged about gracelessly here, sometimes merely approximating to the notes. The cast was completed by Lorenzo Regazzo's sturdy Alidoro and the two not-so-ugly sisters of Leah-Marian Jones, as vulgar Tisbe, and Emma Dogliani, as Clorinda, the quiet one.

There is less of the pantomime about this Cenerentola than there can be, thank goodness. The cast for these seven performances gives it a touch of class, though even they cannot quite make it magic.

Una Cenerentola di classe
Barbara Diana, Il Giornale della Musica, 10 January 2003

Jacopo Ferretti, il librettista di Cenerentola, ha tramandato un resoconto probabilmente fantasioso della stesura dell'opera, scritta in due settimane, il cui soggetto sarebbe stato deciso dopo la mezzanotte della vigilia di Natale dell'anno 1816, la stessa notte in cui, accettando una scommessa del compositore, avrebbe steso il primo schizzo del libretto. Se ciò corrisponda o meno a verità forse non è rilevante, se non per giustificare i limiti letterari del testo, ma sta di fatto che nell'accettare il soggetto di Cendrillon, ispirato alla favola di Perrault, il razionale Rossini pose come condizione l'eliminazione di ogni elemento fantastico: niente fate madrine, zucche o rintocchi di mezzanotte, si rimane strettamente nell'ambito della tradizione dell'opera buffa, per quanto con un tocco di favola morale. Ecco quindi apparire la figura di Alidoro, il saggio tutore che sembra architettare e controllare tutta la vicenda. Ed ecco Don Magnifico, primo basso buffo, assumere maggiore importanza: è il suo disperato desiderio di innalzarsi agli onori del trono, insieme al malcelato disprezzo per l'umile condizione a cui ha ridotto Angelina, 'servaccia ignorantissima', e a cui senza dubbio teme di essere presto ridotto egli stesso, che conferisce al lavoro un elemento di critica sociale. Il conflitto di classe inerente alla vicenda è la chiave di lettura scelta da Moshe Leiser e Patrice Caurier, che riambientano il lavoro in una immaginaria Italia degli anni Cinquanta: il principe diventa quindi un protagonista della cronaca rosa, con tanto di corteggio di paparazzi, e l'apparizione finale di Cenerentola sembra l'arrivo di una star cinematografica. Al di là di un tocco di colore, questa rivisitazione non aggiunge nulla al lavoro, e lo spettacolo, che si avvale di un ensemble di prima grandezza, si regge interamente sul talento individuale degli interpreti. Innanzitutto il direttore, Evelino Pidó, che fin dalle prime battute dell'ouverture rivela una profonda comprensione della retorica rossiniana, e che controlla con grande sensibilità l'orchestra della Royal Opera House, in alcuni momenti ridotta ad un sospiro, lasciando ai cantanti grandissima libertà dinamica e ritmica. Juan Diego Florez è più che a suo agio nei panni di Don Ramiro, e si dimostra ancora una volta interprete rossiniano ideale: la voce sta maturando, e la considerevole agilità e padronanza della tessitura è adesso accompagnata da un timbro più corposo e caldo. Simone Alaimo è eccellente nei difficili panni di Don Magnifico, di cui padroneggia con grande musicalità l'impossibile scrittura vocale, e costituisce con il Dandini di Alessandro Corbelli un duo comico irresistibile, in particolare nel duetto del secondo atto. Lorenzo Regazzo è un Alidoro imponente, e tra le due sorellastre emerge per comicità Leah-Marian Jones, irrefrenabile nei panni di una Tisbe particolarmente sfortunata. Vesselina Kasarova forse esaspera con un vena di tragicità l'aspetto malinconico inerente al carattere di Angelina, e non sembra naturalmente incline ad un ruolo fondamentalmente comico, ma grazie ad una considerevole intelligenza musicale riesce a porre in rilievo momenti inusuali della partitura, e domina con grande tecnica vocale la scena finale, che diventa un vero e proprio trionfo.

La Cenerentola Covent Garden
Anthony Holden, The Observer, 19 January 2003

[...] Little more joie de vivre was to be found at Covent Garden's revival of its two-year-old Moshe Leiser-Patrice Caurier staging of Rossini's La Cenerentola. Between them, the erratic tempi of conductor Evelino Pidó and the directors' heavy-handed attempts at humour managed to reduce a bittersweet romp to an overlong yawn. Like Mozart's Don Giovanni, Rossini's version of Cinderella is a dramma giocoso, a stern morality tale with moments of charming light relief. Transferring the mise en scène to that of Fellini's La Dolce Vita, complete with blue Rolls-Royce instead of golden carriage, elaborate costumes and sets are asked to carry the full weight of this subtly tragicomic genre. Rossini must take some of the blame, for giving the directors licence to turn the wicked stepfather Don Magnifico (Simone Alaimo) into a buffo clown hamming it up beyond endurance; but the authentically giocoso character of Dandini (Alessandro Corbelli) is a golden opportunity sadly squandered.

Rossini is also to blame, in this score, for over-indulging in flights of coloratura to the point where the music all but strangles itself. Of the male principals, only the Italian bass Lorenzo Regazzo rose to the challenge, a cut above a humdrum cast as a suave Alidoro. Of the women, only the Bulgarian mezzo Vesselina Kasarova made light of her vocal gymnastics in the title role, to which she otherwise brought minimal charm. The most pleasing performance was that of the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez, a Prince whose dashing stage presence came as naturally as his top Cs.

Pidó lost control of the proceedings more often than any major opera house should tolerate, his orchestra repeatedly dancing to a different beat from his frequently overstretched singers. But the French directorial duo are primarily to blame for reducing a delicately dark fable to an unseasonal panto, its forced humour as dispiriting as its surface charm. Sight gags alone do not a comic opera make; at Covent Garden, of all places, one expects directors to recognise and respond to the wit expertly built into the music.


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