Champagne often gets a mention in connection with La Cenerentola, the final, slightly pruned, component of Opera North’s fairytale season, a simple, well-worn story of virtue rewarded, and rightly so, because Rossini’s comic effervescence is there relentlessly in every aria, every ensemble piece, on this occasion providing a great contrast to the previous fairy tale, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. To think that it was hurriedly put together in 1817 with the librettist Jacopo Ferretti in less than a month, during the great age of bel canto, is just incredible, and on the first night in Leeds’ Grand Theatre, it was as though that great age had never paused, with every voice and every character getting a chance to revel in the intricate ornamentation.
South African tenor Sunnyboy Dlada seemed perfectly comfortable as Prince Ramiro, reaching the required stratospheric heights with no signs of strain and much virtuosity, his light and lyrical voice well suited to Rossini. He was awe-inspiring in the aria "Si, ritrovarla io giuro" (Yes, I swear to find her again) in Act 2 after Angelina (Cenerentola) has given him a bracelet. There are no Disneyesque glass slippers, and nothing supernatural, in Rossini's version, unless tricks with modern technology count as magic: the mirror in the dancing school provides our heroine with a vision of herself in shimmering white, a kind of cross between a bride and the Lady of the Lake (video designer Andrzej Goulding).
The dancing master of the scruffy school is the ridiculously self-important Don Magnifico, a buffo character well-played by bass-baritone Henry Waddington, whom I remember as a terrific Bottom in Opera North’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He raised plenty of laughs with actions like getting his leg stuck while practising at the bar, made the scene in which he becomes a sommelier funnier than it deserved to be, and was a properly odious stepfather. The daughters he spoils are not actually ugly, just tasteless, silly and waspish: Amy Payne as Tisbe and Sky Ingram as Clorinda both avoided the crude extravagance associated with run-of-the-mill pantomime: this opera needs light steering. They provided some pleasing touches. I particularly liked their felt-tip vandalising of the framed photographs of the ‘contestants’ for the hand of Ramiro.
John Savournin was a contrastingly solemn Alidoro, here resembling an old-fashioned civil servant in a bowler hat for most of the time. As the fixer and straight man, the equivalent of a fairy godmother, he has a kind of instant dramatic authority, and his warm tones fit the part. Quirijn de Lang's Dandini was impressive, singing brilliantly, but I think he could have been given a little more action: he seemed too static at times.
As so often, the Opera North Chorus was well-drilled, playful and effective. Its members looked like the hangers–on of some celebrity rock star. Director Aletta Collins is also the choreographer, and her skills were well employed throughout, especially in ensemble pieces and at the end of Act 1. Conductor Wyn Davies got the best out of the orchestra, and all the crescendos were precisely judged, to make the evening really enjoyable.
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