fri 14/06/2024

La Cenerentola, Glyndebourne Festival Opera | reviews, news & interviews

La Cenerentola, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

La Cenerentola, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

Vocal team transforms this solid Peter Hall revival into something unmissable

Elizabeth DeShong's Cenerentola (Cinderella) delivers a supremely confidant display of coloraturaPhoto Credit: Clive Barda

Rossini's La Cenerentola is not an opera that I'd normally recommend to anyone with even half a brain. It takes the simple if mildly nauseating little tale of Cinderella, pads it out with parental abuse and drawn out cliffhangers, and ends in a pass-the-sick-bag denouement of "Goodness Triumphant". Yet, in an act worthy of the fairy godmother herself, Glyndebourne has transformed the piece into something unmissable. 

As ever with this classy East Sussex institution, the thing that raises proceedings above the level of panto is the extraordinary casting. The first delights that we're treated to, as the torn curtain is lifted on the humble home of wicked stepfather Don Magnifico, are the voices of the ugly sisters. The fizz and zip that Elena Xanthoudakis (Clorinda) and Victoria Yarovaya (Tisbe) invest in their opening lines is so attractive that it completely undermines the possibility that they might not be the ones we're supposed to root for. Their rivalry, jealousy and vanity is never anything less than irresistable, especially when fate periodically turns against them and we see them dropping to the floor in fits of fainting.

The moments of suspended time were undoubtedly the high points of the evening

Next to them and their compellingly grubby, grasping step father (Umberto Chiummo), Cinders doesn't half come across as an annoying drip, deserving of everything she's got coming. Elizabeth DeShong's characterisation doesn't do much to dispel this line of thought. Character-wise, then, we are forced to look to the edges for our entertainment. But vocally, DeShong repays full attention. Hers was the most confidant display of coloratura I've heard for a while. Her victory over and forgiveness of those around her unleashed runs that burst outward towards us in pride and inwards in false modesty. Notes were tossed up and out into the air and hummed down and back into her throat. 

But the interest went beyond the girls. Taylor Stayton's Don Ramiro was the perfect all-round Italian Prince Charming, his love for Cinders spurring him on to some splendid vocalised passion. The sisters weren't allowed to hog all the comic limelight. Armando Noguera's Dandini, in disguise as his master Don Ramiro, fooled around with the girls with exquisite timing and campness. Only Shenyang's Alidoro (the Fairy Godmother role) failed ever to catch fire. Conductor James Gaffigan made sure the London Philharmonic Orchestra kept to a rip-roaring pace in the pit.

Most fun was to be had when the lead protagonists came together and fired off each other like a pin ball machine. As a vocal sextet, you couldn't ask for more. Cenerentola demands a good team at the top. Not only do they have to divert attention away from the glaring lack in the libretto, but every end of scene coming together, where the antics of the previous minutes stun each character into temporary united reflection, needs a clever blend of vocal colour. This is exactly what happened. These moments of suspended time were undoubtedly the high points of the evening, as the lights dimmed on the Biedermeier sets and refocussed on the interior life of the characters at the front of the stage.

Peter Hall's revival production (last seen in 2005) was strong and straight (punctuated beautifully by the lighting designs of Peter Mumford), if a little stiff. The larking about was stock. But the benefit of Hall's refusal to engage the work just for laughs meant that he could focus on relationships in a way that just about held our intellectual attention. And it also meant that he could end with a serious final thought. With eternal happiness in the bag, Cinderella begins to bask a little too much in the adulation that she is receiving for all her good works. An overdue reminder that too much virtue can quite quickly become a vice.

Most fun was to be had when the lead protagonists came together and fired off each other like a pin ball machine

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Absolutely superb!

wonderful,steps up from 2005

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