Rossini’s La Cenerentola is a masterpiece full of energy, comedy, contrast and fireworks; an opera that, when done well, can fill an opera house night after night. But as with many productions, the diamonds in the rough are often not easy to find. However, this revival of David Radok’s commedia dell’arte-inspired production at the Gothenburg Opera is most definitely a diamond, and at the première, myself, along with a full house giving a standing ovation the likes of which I have not seen for years, clearly all agreed that this is one worth travelling to see. And I don’t say that lightly.

Gaia Petrone (Angelina) © Mats Bäcker
Gaia Petrone (Angelina)
© Mats Bäcker

David Radok is an inspired director. In an age when directors are trying to be so intelligent with their interpretations that they often cut off the audience altogether, Radok does the opposite, frequently pulling the audience in and making them involved with proceedings.  After having mainly directed less comedic works, Radok was approached by the Gothenburg Opera to direct some Rossini: Il viaggio a Reims, La Cenerentola and Il barbiere di Siviglia.  After hearing them, he fell in love with the music, directing all three over the following years and linking them together in style and presentation. Along with conductor Giancarlo Andretta, they decided to go back to the definitive Rossini manuscript, cutting out anything that was alleged to have been written by his assistant, and moving the odd number around as was originally intended. This works very well and provides more flexibility in the way the drama is presented.

What Radok does for the drama in this production, Andretta matches in the pit. I think it is fair to say that in my experience over the last six years or so of visiting the Gothenburg Opera, the orchestra, although usually very good, often have the tendency to play louder than necessary, causing balance issues with hearing the singers. Likewise, tempi can sometimes be debatable. That was definitely not the case here with some of the best playing I have heard from the orchestra in any of the recent productions. Andretta kept full control of both dynamics and tempi masterfully. Never letting anything rush away and with full dynamic contrasts, they were a joy to listen to on every level.

Fredrik Helgesson (Alidoro), Sergej Romanovskij (Don Ramiro), Åke Zetterstöm (Dandini), Gaia Petrone © Mats Bäcker
Fredrik Helgesson (Alidoro), Sergej Romanovskij (Don Ramiro), Åke Zetterstöm (Dandini), Gaia Petrone
© Mats Bäcker

The commedia dell’arte references and style break down the barriers between the stage and the audience. The production opens with a typical Radok trait of formerly presenting the characters during the overture. As the overture ends, sheets on washing lines are pulled into position acting as a varying backdrops to Cenerentola’s misery. The production features hugely colourful costumes: mainly pinks and greens, most obvious by the very twee but effective chorus; a group of Harlequin-dressed dancers are ever-present, commenting, reflecting and occasionally advancing the drama. But above all in this production, the comedy is wonderful.

A company tenor of the Gothenburg Opera, Mattias Ermedahl has been revival director, specifically asked in order to maintain and develop the comedic level, and he has done a great job. There were some hilarious moments. Dandini’s Emperor-like entrance; the galloping, bottom slapping chorus; Dandini’s “fly” moment and John Cleese-like “ministry of silly walks” characterisation; Magnifico’s water bottle; the sister’s coming late to the stage from the dressing rooms; Dandini’s endless silence eventually erupting in laughter that brought the house down; Magnifico’s drunk second entrance; the modern choreography featuring air karaoke and moshing; “Zitto Zitto” in shades; the hairdryer and smoke machine during the storm scene… the list goes on and on.

This was a cast with few weak links and great comic timing: the men in particular stole the show. Åke Zetterström’s Dandini, while not necessarily the most vocally suitable for the role, was masterfully characterised with many fantastically funny moments. The same can be said of Markus Schwartz’s Magnifico. Together they were a tour de force: a double act that whipped the show along accordingly. 

Gaia Petrone (Angelina), Ann-Kristin Jones (Tisbe) and Mia Karlsson (Clorinda) © Mats Bäcker
Gaia Petrone (Angelina), Ann-Kristin Jones (Tisbe) and Mia Karlsson (Clorinda)
© Mats Bäcker
I was originally excited about seeing this production for two reasons. The first, already mentioned, was David Radok. The second was Sergey Romanovsky's Don Ramiro – here is a tenor for everyone to watch. His career is on a rapid upwards curve and it is easy to see why. With a solid technique, warm and beautifully produced tone and strong physicality with perceived ease that most tenors could only dream about, top Cs that ring throughout the house and a relaxed but powerful stage persona, he made the perfect Ramiro. This was his debut in the role and it was sung with exactness and simplicity as encouraged by Andretta’s keenness to stay true to the original performance. I only hope I can catch a future Ramiro of his as I am fairly sure the fireworks will explode once he is comfortable with it.

The sisters, Mia Karlsson and Ann-Kristin Jones, did a great job of their roles. One blond and busty, one slim and pale, they sang well and acted the roles with aplomb. Fredrik Helgesson made an assured Alidoro and Gaia Petrone gave quite a boyish but solid performance as Angelina. Her coloratura was excellent, although it was a shame her intonation during the first half could not have been a little more exact.

All in all, an inspiring evening. If the cheers were anything to go by, book your tickets fast.  You won’t be disappointed.