cinders, prince and dandini

Giorgio Caoduro as Dandini, Tara-Erraught as the disguised Angelina and Matteo Macchionias Don Ramiro. Pictures: Jane Hobson

La Cenerentola

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

Anything which manages the line “am I a Prince or a cabbage” gets my vote, but brassicas apart, this is a splendid, light-hearted gem of an opera, a variation on the fairy tale, and pantomime, favourite of Cinderella.

Now 201 years old it is still as fresh as a daisy with Rossini’s score a delight, full of intricate duets, trios, quartets, quintets and even a couple of quite magical sextets as well as some confident arias.

The story is loosely based on fairy-tale legend Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon, published in Paris in 1697, Cinderella to you and me, which had the novelty of introducing the pumpkin, fairy godmother and the panto favourite glass slipper to the story.

Loosely based in that the wicked stepmother has become a rather unkind stepfather, Don Magnifico, sung with splendid self-importance and a lovely bass voice, by Italy’s Fabio Capitanucci.

He admits to keeping his stepdaughter, Angelina, in rags and fed on scraps so that he can provide handsomely for his own daughters Clorinda and Tisbe, who are no longer ugly, just . . . well, weird, and looking as if they use the same hairdresser as Marge Simpson with red and yellow creations almost as tall as they are.

Not that the Simpson blue is forgotten mind with blue beards obligatory and indeed what appears to be the entire palace staff with blue rinses

dandini and sisters

Aoife Miskelly as Clorinda, Giorgio Caoduro as Dandini and Heather Lowe as Tisbe.

Northern Irish soprano Aoife Miskelly as Clorinda and mezzo-soprano Heather Lowe as Tisbe bring a sense of fun to the squabbling stepsisters while Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught, brings a quite innocence to her role as the put-upon Angelina - that’s Cinderella to me and you, her step family calling her Cenerentola as she lives among the ashes in the kitchen. No waif is she though, being a spirited skivvy.

Then there is the fairy godmother, or not in this case, as Rossini and his librettist Jacopo Ferretti dispensed with her magical services, introducing instead Alidoro, sung in the powerful deep bass of Wojtec Gierlach from Poland.

He is a philosopher - doesn’t every village have one? - and former tutor to the Prince, and what would Cinderella be without a prince.

So enter Italian tenor Matteo Macchioni as Don Ramiro, the Prince of Salerno, a lovely, light tenor, along with his valet Dandini (at last a name panto goers will recognise) sung by the wonderful baritone of Giorgio Caoduro from Monfalcone, in the north of Italy – the northermost port of the Mediterranean incidentally, which has nothing to do with the opera, but is an interesting fact nevertheless.

The Prince is out to find a bride and Alidoro is on a scouting mission, dressed as a beggar, and arrives at Don Magnifico’s house where Clorinda and Tisbe try to throw him out but Angelina gives him food and drink – one nil to Cinders.

Then the Prince arrives – except Don Ramiro wants a wife who is kind and not hidebound by pride and status, so has swapped roles with Dandini who pretends to be the prince, with the real prince pretending to be his valet, giving Caoduro the chance to show a splendid bent for comedy starting with his arrival on a pop-art horse on wheels with a head at either end - that's the horse, not Dandini.

cinders wno

Tara Erraught as Angelina with the silhouette of one of the rats in the background

 

The stepsisters are only interested in the status of becoming a princess, falling over themselves to impress the disguised Dandi, while Cinders falls for the valet, who is really the prince – two nil to Cinders.

There are variations of the Cinderella story from ancient Egypt through just about every civilisation on earth so there is no definitive narrative, but some changes here are practical rather than parochial.

The glass slipper is left on the shoe rack and instead is replaced by a bracelet with Cinders, in disguise at the Prince’s party, wearing two identical bracelets . . . as you do.

She keeps one and gives one to the Prince so that they will know each other when they meet again. It is a simple device and two centuries ago it got around the staging difficulties involving magic tricks and glass slippers, and to be fair, it does work.

Which also means this cinders also misses out on the glittering crystal coach as her transport to the party, instead having to make do with what apparently was a giant pumpkin, although it looked rather like an industrial size soup tureen that didn’t even manage wheels, instead being carried by a collection of rats.

The six rats, incidentally, were a charming addition to show first the kindness of Cinders with all creatures and the less than kind disposition of her step family. They also add a little humour and fun with their gestures and antics.

Revival director and choreographer Xevi Dorcakeeps everything light and simple aided by Joan Guillén’s colourful costumes and effective design with a sweeping staircase stage right and stage high doors dominating the centre and a clever mirrored flat dropping from the flies with reversing panels to give us a pop art coach for the prince.

The music is intricate and delicate much of the time, challenging to play and sing, but it is also witty and full of wordplay in a sparkling production which seems nowhere near its three hour running time, and it is all brought to life by the WNO Orchestra conducted by the company’s music director, Czech star Tomáš Hanus with support from the always superb WNO chorus.

The result is a light hearted, delightful evening of opera full of fun and with feel good factor to burn.

Roger Clarke

15-11-18 

WNO

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