La Cenerentola, Royal Opera House, London December 2000
Photo courtesy of Marion Tung
Ashen-faced over Cinders's cliche-ridden tale, The Daily Telegraph, 18 December 2000
You will have a ball, The Times, 18 December 2000
Great and good - Cenerentola, The Evening Standard, 18 December 2000
Modern magic for Cinderella, Financial Times, 19 December 2000
Rags to riches (but no fairy-tale ending), The Independent, 19 December 2000
Cinderella and the man-eating slappers, The Guardian, 18 December 2000
Ashen-faced over Cinders's cliche-ridden tale
Rupert Christiansen, The Daily Telegraph, 18 December 2000
I had better confess at once that Rossini's comic operas are not for me.
I find them infuriatingly padded with cliche: ack-ack runs and roulades,
relentless crescendi, mechanical modulations. The plots ramble on, the
humour is coarse, they are too damned long. Give me Donizetti's shapely
La Fille du Regiment any day.
So the fact that I was bored stiff throughout the Royal Opera's new
production of La Cenerentola is neither here nor there - I don't suppose
I would have enjoyed it much more if Beecham had been conducting and
Bartoli singing the title-role. Personal prejudice aside, however, I can
report that the remainder of the audience appeared to enjoy itself, and
the quality of the performance was high.
Yet I do find Mark Elder an odd choice as conductor of such a piece. He
is scarcely noted for his light touch, and even his Parsifal veered
towards the lugubrious. Faced with noisy, farcical helter-skelter, he
seems determined to keep discipline. The result is secure and elegant,
but lacking in smiling spontaneity. Taking the music so seriously -
Elder presents Rossini as the contemporary of Beethoven - only exposes
its thinness of inspiration.
The cast is good. As Cinderella herself, the Italian Sonia Ganassi
revealed a warm and firm mezzo-soprano, which rose to the brilliance of
the final rondo without resorting to stylistic vulgarities. In
demeanour, she comes across as somewhat bullish - I would have preferred
a more winsome, Felicity Kendal approach to the character. Her handsome
prince, Ramiro, is Juan Diego Florez, a slim and dashing Peruvian tenor
who projects every semiquaver accurately and is never at a loss for
breath. I would like to hear him sing something more interesting.
Strong support came from the veteran Rossini buffo Simone Alaimo as Don
Magnifico and Marcin Bronikowski as an engaging Dandini, but even a bass
as accomplished as Michele Pertusi couldn't make anything of Alidoro.
Leah-Marian Jones and Nicole Tibbels, on the other hand, made rather too
much of the Ugly Sisters, but nobody except me was complaining.
The direction was in the hands of that thoroughly professional and
reliable pair, Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser. This isn't one of their
more daring efforts, but it tells the rather feeble version of the
traditional fairy-tale clearly and looks good (sets by Christian
Fenouillat, costumes by Agostino Cavalca). Like most productions of
Rossini comedies nowadays, it updates to the ambience of post-war
Italian cinema, with paparazzi gags spicing up the usual bosom-fondling
and drunken lurching.
It's all quite unobjectionable but very predictable - I have the feeling
that Caurier and Leiser are no more excited by this opera than I am.
You will have a ball
Rodney Milnes, The Times, 18 December 2000
Comedy, as we all know, is the only possible way to say something really
serious, and what could be more serious than the triumph of simple human
goodness over snobbery, jobbery, greed and the sort of cruelty you only
find in a truly dysfunctional family? I suppose it is possible to take
Rossini's version of the Cinderella story too seriously - two essays in
the Royal Opera's programme book cite King Lear - but far rather that
than looking on it as merely not-quite-as-funny as The Barber of
Seville. Chalk and cheese spring to mind.
In the event, this new production at the Royal Opera House gets the
balance absolutely right. It is most elegantly designed by Christian
Fenouillat, whose slightly foxed white room in the Magnifico residence
is transformed with the utmost ease into the Prince's palace. Agostino
Cavalca's costumes are from the 1950s; the stepsisters (Nicole Tibbels
and Leah-Marian Jones) wear the sort of frocks that would look good on
Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida, but they behave like Joan Sims and
Barbara Windsor in Carry On mode. Cenerentola goes to the ball in a
sleek blue limo. Times do not change: this mild updating fits the action
like a glove.
The direction by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier - their first work at
Covent Garden, and I trust not their last - is so discreet, so natural,
that you hardly notice there is a production at all. It is often very
funny, but with just the right number of moments to cause a sharp intake
of breath (a hint of incest, maybe, in the way Magnifico fondles his
daughters in the first scene). Their handling of one of Rossini's
greatest inspirations, the ensemble "Signor, una parola", is faultless:
the cruelty of Magnifico announcing the death of the stepdaughter who is
standing next to him is not shirked - indeed, it hits you like a
thunderbolt, as Rossini intended.
The only arguable mistake is to introduce an element of the supernatural
that Rossini purposefully expunged from the story: the fairy-godfather
figure, Aldidoro, magicks away Magnifico's house and sprouts a pair of
eponymous golden wings, which should be cut before the next performance,
Saturday's first night was dominated in the nicest possible way by one
superb performance, Simone Alaimo's Don Magnifico. The man's
viciousness, greed and fawning snobbery are filtered through a complete
command of buffo style: he is at once ridiculous and absolutely
terrifying in his malevolence. His come-uppance - a sharp "Tacete"
("Shut up!") from the Prince - is an epic moment.
Sonia Ganassi and Juan Diego Flórez are nicely matched as Cinderella and
her Prince. His tenor is still on the dry side but his technique is
formidable; she is less precise in coloratura but fields a beautifully
warm tone. No one can sing Dandini nowadays - we still have to reinvent
the coloratura baritone - but Marcin Bronikowski is splendidly droll.
Michele Pertusi brings a not inappropriate touch of Mephistopheles to
his Alidoro and sings his treacherous music very smoothly.
Mark Elder's for the most part gentle tempos obey the first rule in
conducting Rossini: never hurry the singers, give them room to phrase
their music with love. Yet his interpretation is also rhythmically
precise and disciplined, and like the directors he catches the right
balance between fizz and human warmth. A lovely evening.
Great and good - Cenerentola
Tom Sutcliffe, The Evening Standard, 18 December 2000
What makes Rossini's version of Cinderella special is its humanity. This
is a romance about the chemistry of goodness, not a fairy story.
"Goodness in triumph" is the subtitle. So conductor Mark Elder's
slightly creaky, self-consciously sincere unbuttoning of the overture
sets the right tone. Rossini can sound machined. But here, the Royal
Opera orchestra play like angels, and the whole satirical, charming,
games-playing show blossoms: especially Rossini's wondrous
identification of moral with vocal values, washing jealousy and
beastliness away through the power of coloratura.
There's fabulous singing, and the act of preposterous Don Magnifico and
his daughters would grace any top variety bill. But the secret is the
magic balance between sentiment and farce in Moshe Leiser and Patrice
Caurier's finely judged new staging. The romantic central couple cannot
be as sparky as in Rossini's Barber. But the sense of suppressed revolt
about Sonia Ganassi's stolidly determined Cinderella makes her later
forgiveness of the sisters all the sweeter. The ambivalent final scene
presents both the pompous royal courtiers and the Royle Magnificos round
their kitchen table. Morality never cloys.
Designer Christian Fenouillat updates to a Fifties Dolce Vita fantasy
Rome, but it's not laboured. We meet Cinders wiping down a fat old
radiator in a generously proportioned hallway with yellow plaster and
peeling ugly chintz wallpaper, tasteless as the sisters' lurid
ballgowns. But the royal palace is pretty Gallic naff: Louis Quinze
chairs, upholstered with leopard-skin fabric, and potted garden-centre
lemon trees. Christophe Forey's lighting is expressive. A magic
scene-change from Hard-up Hall to the royal ball, as a white curtain
closes and then reopens the stage, is typically slick. Detailed
direction of stars and extras ( valets, paparazzi, drag countesses) is
Juan Diego Florez's Ramiro manages to look just a touch uncomfortable in
Dandini's grey chauffeur uniform, and sings with impeccable crystalline
accuracy. Though no show-off, he has a tenor attitude to ace top notes,
his timbre fresh, bold and tireless. Marcin Bronikowski's handsome and
playful Dandini is vocally not quite focused. Miss Ganassi pearls off
colourful Olympic figurations in and out of her thrillingly robust chest
register with potent aplomb, while always keeping in character. Simone
Alaimo's powerful Magnifico is a tour de force: no slipped mask, no
overacting. The sisters, Nicole Tibbels and Leah-Marian Jones, back him
in similar vein.
Michele Pertusi's underpowered tutor Alidoro disappoints slightly, but
not his patrician style and florid guardian-angel wings.
Modern magic for Cinderella
David Murray, Financial Times, 19 December 2000
The Royal Opera's new Rossini production, La Cenerentola, is a
singularly happy affair. It is his best, unimprovable, comic opera and
with an excellent, well-directed cast it is utterly winning. On Saturday
the first-night audience was vociferously appreciative.
If you scent that this may be your sort of thing, you should stop
reading now, and ring the box-office to see if there's anything left for
the remaining five performances (to January 9). The show returns at the
end of February, but with a new Prince and Cinderella.
The directors Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, a long-standing
partnership, have added some piquancy by transferring the scene to a
mid-20th-century never-land: no old-fashioned magic for the
"philosopher" Alcindoro, but a shiny auto to bring the Prince and his
entourage on, eager paparazzi everywhere with cameras - that sort of
thing. But the proper story is never distorted; on the contrary, it's
enhanced by dozens of bright little human touches, neatly sensitive,
down-to-earth and funny. I heard this same Prince and Cinderella, the
Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez and the mezzo Sonia Ganassi, in Pesaro
last summer, in a witless, grossly overblown production by Luca Ronconi.
There, Ganassi seemed to emerge from her dumpy gloom only to sing
beautifully, and then subside again. With Leiser and Caurier she is a
different performer: a charming and incisive comedienne. Even her
triumphant "Non piu` mesta" at the end had touching nuances.
Florez is in his young prime, with confidence enough to survive almost
any producer. His artfully cultivated timbre - very fast vibrato, almost
electrical - seems to be only a South American taste now, but his
phrasing confirms his musicianship, which is properly locked to his
words. With the advantage of Latin good looks, he acts youthful pride,
concern and vulnerability better than anyone I've seen in the role.
Nicole Tibbels and Leah-Marian Jones deliver Cinderella's stepsisters
(whom neither Rossini nor his librettist Ferretti imagined as "ugly") as
vain, shrewish airheads, with perverse charms of their own. What they
have to contribute to the marvellous Act Two sextet ("Questo e`un nodo
avviluppato", the one with the extravagantly rolled "r"s), they turn
into anguished howls. Nice idea, perhaps just what Rossini intended.
The Prince's valet Dandini - a false "Prince for a day" - is the Polish
baritone Marcin Bronikowski, with slightly muzzy Italian that doesn't
blunt his keen zest. Michele Pertusi sings Alcindoro with great
presence, if not the ideal awesome depth. Cinderella's villainous
stepfather, Don Magnifico, is portrayed by Simone Alaimo not as a
lovable old rogue (the usual thing) but as a preening, venal brute,
without sacrificing any comic detail; I admired him very much.
My only cavil is that the conductor Mark Elder hadn't come to terms yet
with the score. His orchestra sounded crisp and vital, but again and
again - especially in the ensembles, which are the glories of this
opera - it went adrift from his singers. That will soon improve, of
course; but the heart of the problem seemed to be that Elder was
hellbent upon relentlessly speedy tempi where his singers wanted a bit
The best Rossini conductors know that initially the tempo has to be held
down, the better to build the formidable momentum which can take it to
riot-point. Too fast from the start means no pressure at all, and no
real excitement. Elder can do better; but meanwhile he has something
like a dream cast in a deft production, and with those La Cenerentola is
Rags to riches (but no fairy-tale ending)
Nick Kimberley, The Independent, 19 December 2000
Rossini's La Cenerentola is Cinderella, but not as we know it - at
least, not if we're thinking pantomime. No ugly sisters or magic wand
here; Cinders goes to the ball, but thanks to the ministrations not of a
fairy godmother but of Alidoro, a philosopher.
Not that Rossini's opera promotes rationalism. It's still about wealth
and status, and how you too can marry a prince, just as long as you
think he's the prince's valet; or, in the case of the Royal Opera's new
production, his chauffeur. Directors Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser
have updated the action to Italy in the 1950s, so that the carriage that
takes Cenerentola to the palace becomes a Rolls-Royce. And her sisters,
while they may be horrible, are far from ugly: they are would-be
starlets, preening for the paparazzi that fill the stage at every
As updatings go, it's hardly radical. English National Opera recently
set the same composer's A Turk in Italy in the 1950s, but whereas that
production felt imprisoned by the Concept (dread word!), Caurier and
Leiser's Cenerentola doesn't ram Fifties detail down the audience's
throat. Coolly lit by Christophe Forey, Christian Fenouillat's set
sweeps us in no time from Cenerentola's poky home to the roomy splendour
of Prince Ramiro's court, while Agostino Cavalca's costumes sketch in
Yet although Cenerentola shouldn't be knockabout, there are longueurs
here, passages that drift blankly, biding time till the next riotous
vocal ensemble comes around. It's noticeable that some of the loudest
laughs are at the surtitles, or at the chorus line of paparazzi. But all
credit to Caurier and Leiser: when the big ensembles do come round, they
fizz and pop without the singers having to run around like headless
It helps that all seven principals sing splendidly. Rossinian coloratura
is a treacherous language. Here, it's handled with conversational ease,
not only by the soloists and chorus, but by the orchestra, which under
Mark Elder maintains the coiled tension that propels the singers
heavenwards. Thus Michele Pertusi's Alidoro is as smooth as Simone
Alaimo's Magnifico is doltish. Alaimo, in particular, manages to be
funny while singing gracefully, which is not an easy trick.
In the end, though, it's the lovebirds who prove most enchanting, their
vocal exertions a sexy display. As Ramiro, Juan Diego Florez moves
stiffly, yet the voice seems infinitely flexible, soaring high with
extraordinary power. He all but steals the limelight from Sonia Ganassi,
whose Cenerentola is still both touching and exhilarating. She makes the
climactic "Non piu mesta'' not merely a dazzling showpiece, but an
expressive outburst of vocal ecstasy. And vocal ecstasy is what
Cinderella and the man-eating slappers
Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 18 December 2000
Italian film director Federico Fellini seems to be unusually in vogue at
the opera house right now. Hot on the heels of ENO's attempts to stage
the soundtrack of La Strada and to turn Rossini's The Turk in Italy into
Eight and a Half, we now have a third Fellinian operatic take, in the
form of Moshe Leiser's and Patrice Caurier's production of his
Cenerentola at Covent Garden.
With its blend of gritty neo-realism and semi-surreal magic, much of the
piece suits opera well, and the mock 1950s designs are to die for. But
you can't help being vaguely conscious of a sense of overload.
Caurier and Leiser are best known in the UK for a series of productions
for Welsh National Opera that painstakingly explored unforeseen depths.
Their usual accuracy of perception is very much in evidence here -
they're acutely aware that Rossini's version of Cinderella is no fairy
tale, but an acerbic study of a society that bases its values on power,
money and superficial glamour.
Nothing in the opera's world is what it seems. Cenerentola is the
heiress forced into drudgery while the rest of her odious family run
through her money. Prince Ramiro and his valet Dandini fool everyone by
exchanging roles and social status. Leiser and Caurier are often both
up-front and un-funny about the nastiness of it all: Cenerentola's
stepfather Magnifico is a vicious sadist who violently abuses the girl
in scenes that are painful to watch.
Her two sisters are man-eating slappers, avid for the cameras of the
paparazzi, and attacking Dandini with crotch-grabbing voracity. The
casting is impressive, visually as well as vocally. Sonia Ganassi's
Cenerentola has much of Giulietta Masina's unforgettable, haunted
beauty. Marcin Bronikowski's Dandini (closer in looks to Farley Granger
in Visconti's Senso than to anyone in Fellini) exudes a charismatically
glitzy sexuality that far exceeds that of Juan Diego Florez's elegant
Prince. The ending is disquieting, hinting that the abuse heaped on
Cenerentola will have a detrimental effect long after she's seemingly
found true love and achieved an apparent reconciliation with her
The directors do, however, make one big mistake. Rossini ditches all
trace of the supernatural, replacing fairy godmothers and the like with
a worldly-wise old philosopher called Alidoro. Leiser and Caurier
awkwardly try to restore the enchantment, turning Michele Pertusi's
Alidoro into a guardian angel who sprouts gold wings, effects hi-tech
scene changes, and magically conjures up a blue Bugatti in which our
Cinders can go to the ball. Some of this is great fun, but it pulls the
production two ways, blunting its focus.
Musically, things take their cues from the staging's unsettling tone.
Mark Elder conducts a performance that is second to none in brilliance
and precision. But, in place of comic sparkle, we have a thoughtful
darkness of tone, a slightly edgy intensity. Ganassi's voice is deep and
rich, like purple velvet, plangently lyrical, occasionally moving with
less than the requisite fluency at speed. Florez, in superlative voice,
flings out top Cs and coloratura with alarming ease, bringing the house
down in the process, while Bronikowski is all mercurial wit and
seditious charm. The whole is not without flaws by any means, but the
best of it is very fine indeed.
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