Touring – reviewed at Bristol Hippodrome
Private passions are the overarching theme of the Welsh National Opera autumn 2018 season, and these passions are at the fore of Joan Font’s frothy 2007 production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, given a revival here by the piece’s original choreographer Xevi Dorca.
After the bombast of War and Peace and the aching masterpiece of La Traviata, this Cinderella is lighter fare, the kind of work that passes over its audience in a flurry of garish costumes and perky musical motifs. For some it may all prove too much, a flurry of pantomime a few months before Brian Conley and Gok Wan hit the Hippodrome stage, but beyond its high camp production, musicianship is high, led by WNO musical director Tomáŝ Hanus, the splendid WNO orchestra and committed all-male chorus and a number of distinguished principals.
Rossini originally discarded the supernatural from Basini’s original folktale for the work’s 1817 premiere, but its back in Font’s Commedia dell-arte inspired work; the Prince’s tutor Alidoro is here garbed in the Disney Fantasia cloak and the six mice that accompany Angelina from house chores to ball and back have a similar Walt aesthetic in their overlarge heads and perky movement work.
If Angelina travels to the ball, not by horse and carriage but a mouse drawn bathtub there is still the touch of illusion, highlighted by Joan Guillén’s design, the 19th century with an art-deco twist, a bubblegum sweetshop with a dark exterior hidden beneath. It constantly shifts between an aesthetic of poor theatre and blazing colour, as though taking its audience into a leisurely afternoon nap when dream and reality constantly knock up against each other. If the characters constantly crow about how it all feels a dream, then its final coda is a brutal slamming shut of the dream haze and back into a depressing reality.
Tara Erraught’s Angelina is rather restrained as the Cinder’s who does go to the ball. Her mezzo is smoky and colourful, but she rarely let’s rip, only in her final rondo ‘Non piú mesta’ does she get to unleash her coloratura to scene-stealing effect. Her performance is as the everywoman, restrained and grounded, but in a production loaded with excess this grounding can get lost occasionally. In much more show-stealing mood were Aoife Miskelly and Heather Lowe as the bullying stepsisters scrabbling and clawing for their man and Fabio Capitanucci whose Don Magnifico portrayed all the pumped-up pomposity of a social climber aiming for the stars.
Matteo Macchini’s Prince, Don Ramiro, also sounded timid, only in his top register did his vocals threaten to match the orchestral hue so it is left to Giorgio Caoduro’s Dandini to really shine. With a twinkle in his eye and a skip in his step he ably portrays the servant who discovers himself when stepping into his master’s shoes. As the two sisters launch themselves at him, believing him to be the Prince, you can see his Italian blood rise at the possibilities this may give him.
Hanus propels the ever splendid WNO orchestra at quite a clip, so Giacopo Ferretti’s original tongue twisting libretto sometimes blends into the musical whole. It is a reading of the score, that much like the production, keeps it light and keeps it moving. Its three-hour runtime passes by at a pleasurable pace, nothing revelatory here but providing a sugar rush nevertheless.