S&H Opera Review

ROSSINI La Cenerentola Royal Opera, Covent Garden 6 March 2001[AW]

Don Ramiro: Kenneth Tarver
Dandini: Lucio Gallo
Don Magnifico: Bruno Pratico
Clorinda: Nicole Tibbels
Thisbe:Leah-Marian Jones
Angelina: Sophie Koch
Alidoro: Lorenzo Regazzo

Exquisite was the word that came to mind throughout the evening. Mark Elder produced a precise, even somewhat understated but excitingly tense musical performance, shaping Rossini's famous crescendi carefully and even contriving a 'macro-crescendo' for the long first act as a whole. All the singing and acting was of a high standard.

Subtitled by Rossini La bonta in trionfo (the triumph of virtue) this opera was first performed in Rome in 1817. The current rendering by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier was directed by Justin Way who, together with Christian Fenouillat, responsible for the economical sets, Agostino Cavalca for the characterful costumes and Christophe Forey for the subtle lighting, made this Cenerentola a joy to behold.

The simple but not simplistic presentation was a perfect counterpoint to the vulgarity of the discredited characters. Their detailed stereotypical characterisation was deliciously funny. The atmospheric lighting and the subtle fresh colours of peppermint green, purple, yellow and blue projected on the set let the action breathe. The antics of the down-at heel (read morally as well as financially bankrupt), ludicrous but ambitious half of the dysfunctional family, with a mean, misguidedly self-important bully-father, almost obscured the darker side of the work.

A moral element underlies Cenerentola. This age-old fairy tale appears in slightly different versions over time and place to articulate social mores and aspirations for particular audiences. The librettist, Jacopo Ferretti, adapted it to intimate the changing social-political climate after the French Revolution and the drive towards democratisation. Cenerentola has a very effective sting of social criticism in its tail. It does not have the more usual wicked stepmother but an unkind, impoverished but ambitious buffoon of a father figure. He is a member of the minor aristocracy still deluding itself of its own importance. Opposed to this 'aunt Sally' with his frivolous and selfish daughters are first and foremost Cenerentola-Angelina (little angel) who embodies the kind of hardworking, virtuous and loving person much in demand then (and now!). There is, of course, a gendered dimension to this line-up, such a woman presents no threat. However, if Cenerentola is read as being representative of all decent people, a kind of backbone of a diligent workforce and for a decent nation, then the political dimension of this particular version emerges more clearly. She is seen as fully worthy of co-ruling the country with her prince who has seen the light and absorbed the message that a dismantling of rigid class barriers and a sharing of privileges with lower status citizens are now required and have certain advantages (here represented as caring love).
Pictures Royal Opera House

The wise tutor, Alidoro, who makes it all happen, is the steering middleman, a virtual representative of the rising power of a 'wise' middle class. Marriage, as well as State, can function on desired democratic lines if decent people from all walks of life co-operate.

The break-up of class boundaries for the common good is no longer a burning issue, so it is easy to overlook the subversive elements inherent in this Cenerentola, and how it could have affected the audience it was written for. If we were to substitute race for class, and watch a white prince marrying an exploited sweat-shop girl, we could be confronted with an implicit sermon about the need for change in inter-racial social relations.

This Royal Opera House Cenerentola does not set out to be provocative. It concentrates on now innocuous foibles and follies and offers a high level of entertainment, with artistry, inventive wit and beguiling charm all round.

A tonic for all ages. Go and regale yourself.

Alexa Woolf

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