La Cenerentola


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LA CENERENTOLA

Composer: Gioachino Rossini

Libretto: Jacopo Ferretti

First Produced: Teatro Valle, Rome, 1817

Present Company: Glyndebourne 2005

Director: Sir Peter Hall

Sets: Hildegard Bechtler

Costumes: Moritz Junge

Lighting: Peter Mumford

Video Director: Robin Lough

Orchestra: London Philharmonic

Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski


Cast

Cenerentola: Ruxandra Donose

Don Magnifico: Luciano di Pasquale

Don Ramiro: Maxim Mironov

Dandini: Simone Alberghini

Alidoro: Nathan Berg

Clorinda: Raquela Sheeran

Tisbe: Lucia Cirillo


Specs:

Resolution: 1080i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Disc size: BD-50

Opera: 36.50 GB

Bit Rate: Mod-High (28~33 Mbps)

Italian LPCM 5.1, 48k 16b

Italian LPCM 2.0, 48k 24b

Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, & Spanish

Opera runtime: 155 minutes

Region: All

Opus Arte 2008

 

Grade

Conception & Staging: A-

Costumes: A-

Casting: A+

Singing: A+

Orchestra: A

Music Direction: B+

Video Direction: A-

Image: A-

Audio: B+

Extras Features: A

Recommendation: A-


 

Comment

Since any Westerner unacquainted with Rossini’s comic opera is probably familiar with Disney’s version of the story, it’s as good a comparison to make as any.  In many ways we find the same story: Cinderella is stepsister to two vain siblings is made to do all the chores and dreams of a fairy tale ending to her woes.  The family hears that the local prince is seeking a wife and the two sisters vie for his attentions, but he chooses the pure in heart, Cinderella. 


There is magic involved in both versions, but in the Disney movie - which is, funnily enough, closer to traditional European versions of the story - magic is central, as it should be for an animated feature, which is, after all, magical by inclination.  In Rossini’s opera, the emphasis is on transformation, not so much of Cinderella, but of everyone else.  In fact, there is no Disney equivalent to turning her from a creature of rags to one of great finery.  This happens entirely off-stage.  In the Disney version the transformation is granted by a fairy with a magic wand; in La Cenerentola it is effected by the prince’s tutor, Alidoro, who, unbeknownst to anyone else, has some connections with The Force.  Alidoro’s interest is the prince’s happiness and when he finds Cinderella he seizes on the opportunity.  Disney’s fairy, on the other hand, is entirely focused on the girl’s happiness and rescuing her from her life as a slave.  Alidoro is pleased to be the instrument that correct sthe moral imbalance of Cinderella’s family.


        


I think it’s fair to characterize Disney’s Cinderella as something of an airhead - sweet, pretty, innocent and ready for love, but utterly spineless and dependent on others to take care of her.  I guess the best that can be said of her is that she loves birds and animals and that she makes a great victim.  Disney’s movie has great charm but no substance.  It has a sense of humor appropriate for children but addresses only the inner child of us adults - which is not to say it isn’t worthy, but it doesn’t reach very far.  Rossini’s heroine, for starters, is a woman, not a girl, and one with considerable spine and sass.  This is not a modern reading, by the way, it’s right there in the libretto, though stage direction and performance can and does emphasize these qualities.  Sir Peter Hall knows this is comic opera, but his direction eschews low comedy mechanisms such as double-takes and pratfalls.  In fact, as maestro Jurowski points out in the bonus feature, Rossini subtitles La Cenerentola [melo]dramma giocoso” - much the same as Don Giovanni.


        


La Cenerentola is seriously funny.  It has a genuine buffo character in the form of Don Magnifico - here, the father of Tisbe and Clorinda and stepfather to Cinderella. Cinderella, by the way, is named Angelina (natch) but is nearly always called “Cinderella” by her family.  The sparring amongst the three sisters is clever and Peter Hall’s direction that Magnifico should fondle his daughters and that they in turn should be horrified despite their relentless kissing up to him is droll indeed.  There is also a major subplot wherein the prince and his valet change places, the better for the former to gauge the nominees for his royal bed and kingdom.  Well, it’s not so much a subplot as a plot device, and takes up more space than Cinderella’s whatever.  So the prince, in the guise of his valet, arrives at Magnifico’s home first and falls instantly under Cinderella’s innocent charm, as she does of his.  The challenge for Rossini and Hall is to get them properly introduced, so to speak, thus the rest of the opera.


        


Given his audience, Disney could only go so far with family wickedness, placing it entirely in the hands of the sisters and a stepmother (there isn’t one in the Rossini).  But, in a huge departure from Perrault’s original story, librettist Jacopo Ferretti places all the real horror with the funniest character in the opera, making him all that much more vile.  When Cinderella, in the presence of the prince and his valet, implores her father to be permitted to attend the ball, he insists she is just the servant and therefore ineligible. And when Alidoro announces that the public records indicate three daughters, the father insists the third one died.  There is no equivalent moment in the Disney, nor would we expect one.  Nor is such a level of pathos generally found in comic opera.


        


This has to be one of the best cast and sung performances of La Cenerentola on record or video.  Luciano di Pasquale’s Don Magnifico is priceless and pretty much upstages Ruxandra Donose’s beautiful Cenerentola - until the end when she closes the opera with some very impressive singing that defines what bel canto is all about.  I might add that mezzo sopranos don’t often get the lead (Carmen is the most notably exception) and that Donose keeps her voice close to the chest until her transformation when a little spinto allows her to soar in the coloratura passages and otherwise. Her final "Nacqui all'affanno … Non piu mesta" is so wonderfully affected and utterly without strain it just about takes us by surprise.  It’s most unusual for Rossini to end such an opera with a soprano aria, so the responsibility for winding things up at every level is entirely on Donose, and she really nails it.


        


Her prince is sung by Maxim Mironov, a tenor who enjoys a high coloratura tessitura about as much as counter-tenors (which he approximates, but isn’t).  I kept thinking of Dick Powell in his Warner Bros musicals.  Same role, really - the juvenile.  The sisters are both wonderful and, curiously (or, perhaps not), do not get arias of their own.  I like that they are both sexy and fairly good looking so that we have to look just a wee bit under the skin for nasties.  Simone Alberghini, as Dandini, the price’s valet, may sweat more than we would like, but he sings damn well.  His duet with Luciano di Pasquale in the second act is priceless. He would make a fine Leporello if he weren’t so short.


Image & Audio

My only complaint about the singing is that for first couple of minutes the two sisters lag just behind the orchestra.  Later on the one other mishap is the fault of the conductor who loses di Pasquale in his great buffa aria at the beginning of the second act. . . Which brings me to the main failing of this otherwise excellent offering from Opus Arte: the sync is off by just enough to notice for the first 30 minutes, and then it’s fine.  I don’t recall such an error in any of the other Blu-ray opera I’ve visited, but now that I know it’s possible, I shall keep a sharp eye out.


        


The video transfer is Opus Arte’s usual flawless work except for three instances of judder totaling less than ten seconds. However I didn’t know what to make of Peter Mumford’s lighting in the big septet at the end of ballroom scene.  Between his lighting and Robin Lough’s video direction things get a little dicey.


The LPCM 5.1 mix is one of those that places recognizable petit smears of the orchestra to the sides.  I feel this is wrong-headed in most instances (Wagner’s RING, Busoni’s Doktor Faust and perhaps Hansel and Gretel are acceptable exceptions).  The only thing we should be aware of in the surround mix is the space of the hall, together with the audience.  The orchestra does not sit in the audience, despite the curious designation at the box office.  The stereo version presents timbres more accurately - I thought the overture to be a little scratchy in surround mix - and has more dynamic scale, but I imagine most will prefer the surround mix for it’s airier presentation.


        


Extras & Recommendation:

Besides Opus Arte’s usual Booklet, Illustrated Synopsis and Cast Gallery they include a twenty-five minute segment with observations by conductor Vladimir Jurowski and stage director Peter Hall.  This is a superb primer on opera in general and Rossini and La Cenerentola in particular, on characterization, direction, libretto, singing and how it all comes together to make an opera.


Peter Hall’s design implies a kind of internalized squalor.  Only Don Magnifico wears dirty clothes.  The sets are all pristine with everything in its place.  Cinderella keeps an orderly house, and the Prince’s palace is neat to a fault: clean walls and floors - definitely in need of a woman’s touch.  I rather liked that the characters come right to the front of stage and address the audience directly in an exaggerated stage whisper.  If only one person is speaking or singing to us, the others turn their backs.  If it weren’t for the audio sync goof mentioned above and the strange lighting in one of the ensemble pieces this could have been one of the best of the best Blu-ray operas.  All the same, warmly recommended.


        



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

May 18, 2012



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