Although the scene at the ball is not dwelt upon in Rossini’s version of the Cinderella story, dance is made an important component of Aletta Collins’s production by making Don Magnifico the proprietor of a somewhat low dance school. That neatly sets into relief the gauche vulgarity of his, and his daughters’, pretensions to social elevation by contrasting it with the more refined milieu of Prince Ramiro’s ball, even if there is a risk of reducing the scenario of Cinderella’s rags-to-riches trajectory as the mere aspiration of a disaffected individual with a sob story to gain her fifteen minutes of fame through some Strictly Come Dancing-style contest. Collins’s concept is better realised than that through its coherent and integrated use of choreography in some of the opera’s extended sequences – including during the Overture – to pleasing visual effect. Not the least striking is the trompe-l’œil trick towards the end of Act One when the set opens up to reveal the setting for the ball, inspired by the Rivoli Ballroom in London.
Dr Johnson’s damning words on the influence of a would-be patron, as teaching “the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing master” presumably tapped into a widely-held negative opinion about such a profession, and this more or less summed up the nature of Don Magnifico’s schemes in consort with his daughters’ demeanour in this production. Henry Waddington characterises the Don with wit and authority, rather than one-dimensional caricature, whilst in musical terms Sky Ingram and Amy J. Payne bring out the garish and ludicrous personas of Clorinda and Tisbe.
By contrast, Wallis Giunta’s Cinderella is quietly dignified as the put-upon half-sister as she sings her sad song about a king in search of innocent and virtuous love, but metamorphosed into the role of Prince Ramiro’s bride with an assertive, even steely interpretation by the time of her final triumph. Her prince, Sunnyboy Dladla, certainly maintained tight control of the notes in the high range that Rossini calls for, though vocally more lyrical charm would have been ideal in place of the constricted tone that was manifest. John Savournin negotiated the different guises of the Prince’s tutor, Alidoro, and Quirijn de Lang brought humour and some lithe singing as Dardini, Ramiro’s valet.
David Cowan – on the podium for first three performances in place of Wyn Davies – conducted a beautifully paced account, which must surely rank as virtually on a par with The Barber of Seville for the number and quality of its memorable set-pieces. La Cenerentola encompasses several intricate ensembles which were, on the whole, executed in a balanced trade-off between spontaneous vigour and astutely planned suspense finding release in climaxes properly timed and weighted. Although the strings carry much of the musical interest, contributions from other instrumentalists ably highlighted the diverse points of colour by which Rossini drives along the drama with irresistible flair.
- Further performances in Newcastle, Salford Quays, Belfast, Nottingham