The story is well known: an ordinary girl is turned by love into a princess. But you can easily see that this Cenerentola can be realistic, firstly when you see Cecila Bartoli on stage in jeans and trainers. It’s not in the castle of the horrible stepfather that she has to clean the tables innumerable times, but in a run down café in the style of a 1950s American diner, where she has to defend herself against the wicked stepsisters as much as the brutal stepfather. One solitary person is on her side: Alidoro (the excellent Ugo Guagliardo), who is always on the spot with flying shoes, snow-white hair and the requisite magic tricks to allow fate to take its course.

This setting is the work of designer Paolo Fantin, whose sets for two scenes are executed with the highest attention to detail and by themselves paint a faithful picture of present day society. The Prince’s magnificent castle is transformed into a busy night club, in which pleasure-seekers can indulge in dreams and alcohol. Into this setting, director Damiano Michieletto introduces one comic episode after another. He is greatly helped by Rossini’s music, which he coordinates precisely with most of the movements of the main characters, reminding one of the visual gags of silent film. This is done so well that on many occasions, you might imagine that the music had been composed specially for these stage movements.

Sadly, the one thing that wasn’t totally convincing was the music. In spite of a high calibre performance from conductor Jean-Christophe Spinosi, who deserves credit for the above mentioned synthesis of music and stage movement, unfortunately, the Ensemble Matheus was sometimes buried in the acoustic of the Haus für Mozart. However, that’s not to overlook the fact that the orchestra showed the highest conciseness and flexibility.

Vocally, the singers performed this evening with a brilliance that did more justice to Rossini’s work. In particular, Cecilia Bartoli shone in a role that fits her like a glove. She sang the fast and wordy passages with such precise diction that even at the top of her range, you could clearly understand every phrase. She was also passionate and fully convincing in the softer passages, never losing power or expression. When Bartoli is on stage, no-one can miss the energy with which she brings the audience under her spell. Another outstanding performance came from Javier Camarena as Don Ramiro, rock solid in the high notes, with long-held notes that caused the audience to burst into applause. At his side, as Dandini, Nicola Alaimo allied technique which was nearly as good to particularly fine acting skill, authentically deadpan in the comic scenes and getting several laughs from the audience for it. Likewise, Enzo Capuano portrayed Don Magnifico with skill. In the ball scene, he was the perfect evil, drunken stepfather, deliberately babbling and mispronouncing words without in any way compromising his singing voice. As the ugly sisters, Lynette Tapia and Hillary Summers entertained, not least because of their disparity in size, as well as being a perfect double-act both in voice and acting.

Even though this production made no pretence of being deep and meaningful, it definitely achieved something not necessarily common with Salzburgers habituated to great opera: frenetic applause. Many times, Cecilia Bartoli took her co-performers by the hand to make yet another deep bow for their audience. Jean-Christophe Spinosi returned for one last very special moment: in honour of Cecilia Bartoli, the orchestra launched into “Happy Birthday”, joined by the whole of the house. Here was a display of love that Rossini couldn’t have bettered in La Cenerentola: a love affair between the Salzburg audience and their Cecilia.

Translated from German by David Karlin