There's really no debating it: Cecilia Bartoli is a firework come to life. Her range is phenomenal, and the poignancy and nuances of her delivery are second to none. And here in the revival of Cesare Lievi's production of La Cenerentola, the supporting cast was also very strong. As Don Ramiro, the superb Mexican tenor Javier Camarena had an upper range that electrified the house, but he could also portray the sweetest of human affections for Bartoli’s vivacious Angelina, the Cinderella of the Charles Perrault’s famous fairy-tale.

Lawrence Brownlee (Don Ramiro) and Cecilia Bartoli (Angelina) © Monika Rittershaus (2015)
Lawrence Brownlee (Don Ramiro) and Cecilia Bartoli (Angelina)
© Monika Rittershaus (2015)

Cinderella’s conniving sisters, Liliana Nikiteanu as Tisbe, and Martina Janková as Clorinda, also supported the narrative with fine vocal talents, while having, admirably, to suffer through the silliness of costuming that would make a brave man cry. At the ball, where it was hoped the prince would choose a wife, the one sister was dressed as a neon-blue and green mermaid, a kind of detachable handbag for a fin; the other was donned in all the colours of an orange field vegetable. While they were made laughable because of their unseemly garb; one had to take hats off to their managing their stage directions as expertly as both did. Lievi’s production demanded tremendous athleticism on everybody’s part, but the acutely money-minded meddling of the two sisters bore the real brunt of that action.

For Bartoli, action on stage became a liability. While her voice was second to none, her constant motion, inveterate flipping of her luxuriant hair, and crossing the stage willy-nilly in an agitated state, made a classic case for reasons not to move on stage without a real purpose. Her demonstrative and impassioned facial expressions gave far more insight into lyrics than any busy-beavering left and right across the stage.

Martina Janková (Clorinda), Carlos Chausson (Don Magnifico) and Liliana Nikiteanu (Tisbe) © Monika Rittershaus (2015)
Martina Janková (Clorinda), Carlos Chausson (Don Magnifico) and Liliana Nikiteanu (Tisbe)
© Monika Rittershaus (2015)

That said, Bartoli does give profound new dimension to the human voice; her range and facility with modulation and nuance are close to incomparable. She seems to bridge octaves as easily as others of us take in a breath. Here, in one of opera’s most demanding vocal roles – the one other operatic sopranos shy away from because of its extreme demands – Bartoli seemed simply to delight in her repertoire, her eyes, twinkling, her smiles, utterly fetching. As Dandini, the valet to Prince Don Ramiro who impersonates his employer to gain greater insight into eligible brides, baritone Oliver Widmer also deserves great accolades, not only for his resonant voice, but also for his savvy portrayal of a ludicrously pompous prince.

As Don Magnifico, Cinderella’s stepfather, Alessandro Corbelli played an impoverished noble with a mission: to marry one of his daughters into great wealth so as to be more comfortable himself. By victimising his stepdaughter, Cinderella, as he did, the Don would be cited for abuse in today’s parenting psychology, yet here on the stage, disbelief was suspended: the singer’s slapstick humour had the whole house giggling. As Alidoro, the prince’s wise and reserved tutor, Stanislav Vorobyov underpinned the score with his fine bass. Dressed all in white in Act 2, he lent a contrasting degree of official heft, morality, and a certain all-knowing sanctity to the narrative.

Martina Janková, Oliver Widmer, Lawrence Brownlee, Cecilia Bartoli and Carlos Chausson © Monika Rittershaus (2015)
Martina Janková, Oliver Widmer, Lawrence Brownlee, Cecilia Bartoli and Carlos Chausson
© Monika Rittershaus (2015)

Luigi Perego’s stage design was a slightly odd mix of Brutalist architecture and a tribute to Surrealism. The 60-odd men of the choir configuration, namely, were all dressed in black suits and bowler hats that cited the familiar figures of the Belgian painter, René Magritte. Underscoring the cross between a stiff reality and pure imagination, the reference made a fitting background to a New Years’ celebration. Indeed, a huge mirror centerstage may have allowed the audience look at and “find itself” in the colourful, if tempestuous, narrative.

Under conductor Gianluca Capuano, the Orchestra La Scintilla also gave compelling dimension to Rossini’s score, Andrea del Bianco offering precise and sublime embellishments on the cembalo. What’s more, the choir, precisely honed by Ernst Raffelsberger’s direction, was as tight as a tick in its rousing vocals. After the official curtain calls and to the audiences’ great delight, the seven principals returned to give a last rousing chorus, bringing scores of enthusiasts to their feet. Out in the city a few hours later, the New Year’s evening would be too foggy for many of them to see and enjoy Zurich’s legendary midnight fireworks, but no matter: this Cenerentola had been its own big bang.

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