Glyndebourne's La Cenerentola is so vanilla that it almost hurts. The final scene is absolutely magnificently simple (Cenerentola sings her monologue facing the audience bathed in light, in a gold dress. What could be better!?) but the rest is just plain. It's regency costumes and cartoonishly plain period sets all the way (by Moritz Junge and Hildegard Bechtler respectively). No attempt at interpretation is made, nothing about what the opera might mean, we're just presented the story as it is - which some people will breathe a sigh of relief to, but those with more searching minds will feel slightly exasperated as the plot is so thin.
La Cenerentola has two problems as far as I'm concerned. The first is that there is plot, but no drama. Things happen in an order, but there's really very little tension or conflict - the step sisters and father aren't that evil, Cinderella and the prince fall in love within 20 minutes of the opera's start, and we are repeatedly told in the first scene that her life is going to change dramatically. We all know what happens in the story of Cinderella, but so do we know in La Traviata or Salome - that doesn't mean we don't get drawn into the plot each time (ideally speaking of course).
The second is that the score doesn't quite offer the cornucopia of delights that the very best Rossini operas offer, where number after number delights and glistens. This brilliance can save the thinnest plot (Armida and especially Viaggio a Reims), but Cenerentola doesn't get enough chances to really sing until the end, where she should obviously be the musical centre of the work. There is of course much to love for admirers and lovers of Rossini's music such as myself - the overture, the lovely little tune that Cinderella keeps humming, the glittering ensembles and the amazing finale.
There are other challenges to staging this opera too. So much of the text is internal monologue/asides. Peter Hall has every single one of these addressed directly at the audience, so the fourth wall is constantly broken. The ensembles all end up as dreamy moments of stasis where the characters go out of character and weave around each other in surprise or shock or confusion as the situation requires. It's a solution, but it does get a little tired, and means that the characters just fail to have any inner life whatsoever. Absolutely no explanation or exploration is offered of the interesting character of Alidoro, the fairy god mother figure in this opera. It's not bad, and just about maintains interest, but surely we can expect a little more?
I first heard Elizabeth DeShong in the ENO's Lucrezia Borgia last season in the role of Orsini and was blown away by the richness and evenness of the voice. This performance only confirmed my expectations, and expanded my admiration as she is very adept at the coloratura too. The problem is, that the voice is so beefy at the bottom, so much gorgeous chest register singing, that she never for one second sounds like a victim that say Von Stade could so movingly affect. The top has that shiny fullness that is usually the reserve of true altos... I love this voice! Dramatically she was best in the final scene, where despite her small stature, had real poise and presence as a noble figure - more roles like this please.
The rest of the cast were very good too. Taylor Stayton as Prince Ramiro is one of the few tenors who can actually sing the coloratura properly, and his small sweet voice never outstayed its welcome. Umberto Chiummo was a slightly camp (shades of Dale Winton) but equally well sung Don Magnifico, again a luxury to hear such clean coloratura in a baritone, though he doesn't quite have the low notes for this role. Elena Xanthoudakis made a magnetically horrible Clorinda and sang her small part well. The rest of the cast I had no complaints about either (how unusual!)
James Gaffigen conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra expertly - this was excellent Rossinian style, beautifully coloured string playing, all as clean and accurate as Rossini needs to be to shine.
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