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This was the last matinée of the Met's 2008-2009 season and there is an
end of term atmosphere about it, as though everyone just wants to get
it over with and go away for the summer. It is a star vehicle for Elina
Garanca but the Latvian ice maiden makes it clear in the interval
interview with Thomas Hampson that she intends to do no more Rossini.
Based on this performance, she is probably right. Although her
coloratura is thrilling she really does not have the right personality
for this sort of opera giocoso. She is quite in-your-face even in the
early scenes with her stepfather and stepsisters. This is no
subservient Cinderella. Similarly Alessandro Corbelli is a thoroughly
nasty Don Magnifico with none of the redeeming dottiness that usually
comes with this role.
There is a chorus of courtiers wearing dark suits and bowler hats who look as though they have stepped out of a Magritte painting. This is not as funny as it may sound. On the whole, this is a very grim Cenerentola which is short on laughs and long on scenery. Large opera houses sometimes fill their stages with huge sets. Often, as in this case, the effect is to make the performers look like midgets. This is particularly unfortunate for the vertically challenged tenor Lawrence Brownlee who plays Don Ramiro. Brownlee and the willowy Garanca certainly make an incongruous pair of lovers. In the final, most ridiculous, scene they stand together on a giant wedding cake. Garanca descends to do her big number while Brownlee remains, a lonely figure, gurning on top of the cake.
I was struck by the off-hand way that Elina Garanca summons conductor Maurizio Benini to take his bow at the end of the opera. It is the most half-hearted welcome that I have ever seen on an opera stage.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have always found the operas of Rossini to be fun personified, with
beautiful music and witty comedy as well as delightful characters. La
Cenerentola is a Rossini opera that has grown on me over time, while
with Il Barbiere Di Siviglia and William Tell it was love at first
sight I loved the music and comedy of La Cenerentola initially but
found the story confusing. Listening to and watching the opera numerous
over the past four years I have a lot of love for the opera now. This
Met production is my least favourite of the four Cenerentolas so far
that I've seen(I for some silly reason I can't think of haven't yet
seen the DiDonato-Florez performance). The others were the 1988 one
with Murray, Quillico and Berry, the 1996 one with Bartoli, Matteuzzi
and Corbelli and my absolute favourite the 1981 Jean Pierre Ponnelle
film with Von Stade, Montarsolo and Desderi.
Not a bad production by all means, just a flawed one. Apart from the splendid high definition and skillful camera work, the production with the sets had a rather rushed look to it, consisting of over-sized striped walls and the beginning is too sparse for my liking. The costumes fare a little better with some nice colour, but they're not sumptuous really. There also seems to be a problem with the sound downstage on the left, it has a very echoey acoustic like they had just literally stepped into an adjoining bathroom. I also had mixed feelings on the staging. I loved the part where Cenerentola first sets eyes on the Prince, it was adorable, and Magnifico's hilarious drunk act during his first act aria. Unfortunately there were some questionable ones as well. One of the worst offenders was Alidoro sprouting angel wings, it will be amusing to some people but for those reminding themselves Rossini left the supernatural intentionally out of La Cenerentola, not so much. I also found the giant wedding cake over the top and unimaginative in what was done with it, the business with Ramiro and the rope was too predictable and the musical chairs business during the dinner scene got too fussy and distracting.
The chorus are good, good balance, diction and pitch, but I didn't like it that apart from the wine drinking scene that the men were given little to do other than walk/march on and off stage and stand there and sing. Luckily, the orchestra play with a stylish and sparkling sound, although the orchestra is not enormous it works to a better advantage than in the Met production of Orfeo and Eurudice. I would've preferred a forte piano though, the harpsichord is too much of an anachronistic touch and for my tastes sounds strange in a building as big as the Met. The conducting by Maurizio Benini is done with panache and shows an understanding for Rossini's style. As for the singing from the principals, there were some I was disappointed with, but overall they are solid.
Elina Garranca is impressive if not entirely lovable as Cenerentola. I'll start off by saying she is a beautiful woman, and sings wonderfully with a the right timbre, great range, melting legato, secure florid passage work, commands the stage well with an enchanting presence and is great at interacting with those around her. I just don't consider her one of the great Cenerentolas, there are times where she is a little too icy and in your face especially at the start, just missing Murray's melancholy, Bartoli's warmth and Von Stade's charm. Lawrence Brownlee is a much better than expected Ramiro. I loved his performance in Armida, and was expecting more of the same. His performance is not as good, but it is just as promising. Vocally he is fearless, maybe lacking Araiza's nuances and Florez's effortless ring, the technique is never sloppy and the singing is very robust. His acting is charming enough, but I have to admit his short and somewhat pudgy stature(Dandini actually towers over him) was a little disconcerting. He has also a habit of singing with his head side-ways.
Fortunately there are two truly outstanding performances. I loved Simone Alberghini's Dandini, he is very funny and charismatic especially with the gestures with care to enunciate which is important in the pattering. His voice may lack the brightness and agility of Quillico and Desderi, but the tone is still pleasing and the vocal expression is forceful. The best performance of the production belongs in my opinion to Alessandro Corbelli, himself a great Dandini. He is in magisterial voice, with genuine comic timing with his drunk act in his first act aria an absolute hoot, crisp diction and the ability to make Magnifico funny, nasty and buffoonish yet also human at the end and a figure to feel sympathetic towards. Magnifico has the most difficult pattering of any Rossini bass role, only Bartolo comes close, and Corbelli like Montarsolo and Berry delivers it with virtuosity.
I was a little disappointed however in John Relyea as Alidoro. Maybe I'm biased, having been blown away by Plishka in the Ponnelle film, a performance that was almost as if Rossini had actually written it in the late twentieth century and written it as if he had Plishka in mind. I want to say I like Relyea, he was wonderful in La Damnation De Faust and while there were some gravelly moments he was much more natural in I Puritani. A tall, imposing figure he may be, but he sounded woolly for me and seemed awkward at times. The stepsisters were disappointing too. They are well blended and have good voices, but I think they overdo it with the comedy, their performances make them seem like cartoon characters made to do overdone comic shenanigans. In conclusion, worth seeing for the cast, especially by Alberghini and Corbelli. 6.5/10 Bethany Cox
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