Opera Reviews
13 August 2020
Untitled Document

A superb yet gloriously silly production

by Catriona Graham
Rossini: La Cenerentola
Opéra de Lyon
Edinburgh International Festival
August 2018

There are many variants of the Cinderella tale and Rossini’s take on it – La Cenerentola – omits some of the well-known elements in the British panto version, like fairy godmothers and glass slippers. That has not stopped director Stefan Herheim letting his imagination rip in a superb yet gloriously silly production.

The action is framed as a fairy-tale – during the overture, a modern-day young woman cleaner, with her trolley of equipment, picks up a book which has fallen from a passing cloud and starts reading; it is the story of Cinderella. Before our eyes, the story comes to life, full of visual puns and a raid on the dressing-up box.

There’s the be-suited storyteller, who conducts as much as writes with his quill, and the men of the chorus, dressed identically to the storyteller, portly like Tweedledum and ever so slightly camp – it might be their wings. The stepsisters are comely enough; it’s their dispositions which are ugly.

As for the Prince, Don Ramiro (Taylor Stayton), he’s a pretty straight guy, apart from the underhand trick for finding the right bride. Nikolay Borchev’s Dandini rises to the task of impersonating the Prince with aplomb, reminiscent of John Inman, though Stayton has to tell him off occasionally for over-acting.

Turns out the Storyteller transmogrifies into La Cenerentola’s stepfather, Don Magnifico, and he sings an aria recounting a dream about being an ass; the video backcloth produces a grinning cartoon donkey with wings at this point. And for the Prince’s Ball, Renato Girolami’s Don is glammed up like a Dame.

Oh, yes, the video. Opéra de Lyon does have previous in this – remember the flying fish in Porgy and Bess? – but fettFilm have produced more than a moving backcloth. It provides scene-changes (smoking chimneys, journeys) and witty comments on the action – the Prince’s/Dandini’s arrival at Don Magnifico’s is garlanded, but the garlands turn into gears with wheels within wheels; semi-quavers pour out during a love-song and form into a big heart.

There’s a walkway between the pit and the audience, and the characters storm off the stage in strops to argue inches from the front row. The second act begins with a new person, dressed in black, lounging in the Prince’s throne drinking and smoking – turns out to be conductor Stefano Montanari, who is driven back to the pit by Girolami, typical of the knowingness of this production. The book is regularly consulted – usually by characters incredulous at developments.

Michèle  Losier is excellent as La Cenerentola, clearly living her fantasy, her acting camping up the more exuberant runs in arias while her singing remains lissome. Her squabbles with the stepsisters – Clara Meloni and Katherine Aitken – are properly vivacious. When Don Ramiro’s tutor Alidoro, as a Cardinal, marries her to the Prince, her triumphalism breaks through with panache.

What raises this production even further is the balance between the orchestra and the stage; every voice is heard, all the time, yet these are not BIG voices; they are light and fresh, doing full justice to Rossini’s music.

Herheim and Daniel Unger’s intricate sets – fireplaces nesting like Russian dolls, skeletal room structures, the cleaning trolley sprouting cardboard cut-out horses for the journey to the Ball - add to the aura of madcap mayhem.

It’s a pity that no-one is credited with the translation of Jacopo Ferretti’s libretto for the supertitles. They are part of the delight of this entrancing show.

Text © Catriona Graham
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