The Bartoli–Cenerentola Extravaganza has landed in Dortmund, where a sold-out Konzerthaus greeted the performers with excited anticipation. The tour, which marks the 200th anniversary of the opera's première, marks a life-long love affair between Cecilia Bartoli and Rossini's music, one which, her fans hope, is not going to end soon. The performance was semi-staged, based on Cesare Lievi's classic production from the early 90s. The production is very close to the original libretto, with costumes worthy of a Disney movie and nothing to challenge or annoy the traditionalists.

Cecilia Bartoli (Angelina) © Pascal Amos Rest
Cecilia Bartoli (Angelina)
© Pascal Amos Rest

Cecilia Bartoli is a singer who polarizes the public and it isn't difficult to understand at least some of the reasons why. She is extreme in her expressions; her singing is so intensely communicative that her performance becomes profoundly intimate, and some find this request for intimacy inappropriate. Her commitment to her own view of a score or a character is total and all-encompassing, which can cross the line between absolutely enthralling and irritating.

In Dortmund, Bartoli's voice sounded marvellous. If this tour turns out to be her farewell to Cenerentola, the reason cannot be found in the vocal challenges of the role, at least not yet. Bartoli's timbre was as voluptuous as ever, her coloratura as perfect as it can be; the trills were exciting and the agility of her voice was still hard to believe or to comprehend. One of the main faults found by her critics, the smallness of her instrument, was not detectable in this performance. Her voice, albeit not big, travelled with ease all the way to the back of the Konzerthaus, where even her wonderful pianissimi were perfectly enjoyable. Her musical interpretation was always well rounded; every phrase the result of an artistic thought process. She truly and deeply understands Rossini, and proved it with her impeccable style.

The orchestra was Les Musiciens du Prince, the Baroque orchestra founded by Bartoli herself with the Opéra de Monte-Carlo in 2016. Their sound was very good, with the unfortunate exception of the brass which, in the fortissimo passages, tended to have a very open, uncontrolled sound that was sometimes harsh. But that was an exception. Overall, the orchestra was one of the stars of the evening. Conductor Gianluca Capuano gave us a thoughtful, careful, and lively reading of the score. The orchestra highlighted many details with interesting and exciting dynamics, and the Rossini crescendo was absolutely perfect. Some of the tempi were probably a touch too fast, such as the Act 1 finale and a few passages in the overture. The male chorus gave a great performance, extremely precise and engaging.

<i>La Cenerentola</i> in Dortmund © Pascal Amos Rest
La Cenerentola in Dortmund
© Pascal Amos Rest

The rest of the cast was composed of Rossini specialists who contributed to a very successful performance. Tenor Edgardo Rocha, as Prince Ramiro, featured a brilliant coloratura and effortless high notes. His voice did not project as well as it should have, and his timbre was perhaps not the most beautiful, but his command of the Rossini score was solid. He also has a natural comic talent that makes him spontaneous and engaging on stage.

Don Magnifico was Carlos Chausson; his interpretation was more of a noble and proud step-father, rather than an evil one. Chausson has a luscious, flexible voice, and his character is blessed with three long arias, where he garnered some of the most enthusiastic cheers of the evening. Alessandro Corbelli gave his voice to Dandini, the valet who disguises himself as the Prince for most of the opera. Corbelli's voice is past its prime, but a robust technique coupled with his vast experience helped the singer navigate a difficult and engaging role. He was clearly at ease on the stage, and managed to make an aging Dandini into a believable character.

Ugo Guagliardo was convincing as a commanding, although young, Alidoro; his bass is rooted in a solid vocal technique, and his coloratura is bright and exciting. The colour of his voice is not always uniform, and it changes noticeably in the different registers, although this doesn't hinder the legato. Sen Guo and Irène Friedli completed the cast as the two stepsisters. Guo's soprano is warm and smooth, while Friedli's mezzo has a tendency towards harsh sounds in the top register. They supported the fiendishly difficult concertati with great musicianship and cut comical figures with their hilarious costumes.