The Royal Swedish Opera presents a production of Rossini's La Cenerentola inspired by Dickens, vaudeville and burlesque shows. Director Lindy Hume transports the action of the famous fairy tale to Victorian England, where the Prince belongs to a royal lineage everybody can relate to. The costumes of the chorus and dancers are reminiscent of Mary Poppins: chimney sweeps, French maids and nannies (yes, some of the members of the all-male chorus are in drag). The Prince sports a stunning bright red velvet suit, and the evil stepsisters are clad in burlesque style most of the time. Hume and staging director Dan Potra created a lively, romantic show – a true fairy tale.

Johanna Rudström (Angelina) and Ole Aleksander Bang (Don Ramiro) © Sören Vilks
Johanna Rudström (Angelina) and Ole Aleksander Bang (Don Ramiro)
© Sören Vilks

The libretto by Jacopo Ferretti is based on Perrault's version of Cinderella, but the evil stepmother is turned into a boastful stepfather, and the Fairy Godmother is replaced by the Prince's wise tutor, Alidoro. We also lose the glass slipper in favour of a less inspiring pair of bracelets. The stepfather's house features a bric-a-brac store on the ground floor, which gives a fun and colourful background to the scene, while the Prince's palace is represented by a library with portraits of British Royals.

<i>La Cenerentola</i> © Sören Vilks
La Cenerentola
© Sören Vilks

The Royal Swedish Opera Orchestra was under the baton of Jean-Christophe Spinosi. The French conductor is a world-renowned Baroque specialist, who often ventures into Rossini operas with superb results. His reading of the score was detailed and sophisticated, with careful dynamics and tempi that was always lively without ever becoming absurdly fast. His gesture was always firm; he drove the fast and furious ensembles with vigour, which turned out to be some of the best moments of the evening.

The soloists were the weak link of the performance. Rossini is a very touchy composer –  there is nowhere to hide in his music. Every imperfection is magnified and exposed, and the (mostly) young cast was not completely up to the task. Johanna Rudström's mezzo was warm and pleasant, but her intonation wandered a bit. Her coloratura was fast and clear, albeit not very original in the variations. The director gave Cinderella much more agency than usual, making her more than just a rescued victim. She resisted her stepsisters’ bullying, turning her repeated song "Una volta c'era un re" almost into a war cry or a provocation, and at the end she pushed the Prince around to convince him to forgive her family. Rudström took to this interpretation in a natural and lively manner, making Angelina an interesting, multi-faceted character.

Ole Aleksander Bang (Don Ramiro) and Johanna Rudström (Angelina) © Sören Vilks
Ole Aleksander Bang (Don Ramiro) and Johanna Rudström (Angelina)
© Sören Vilks

The Prince, Don Ramiro, was Ole Aleksander Bang. He had the high notes and the coloratura, but the colour of the voice was not convincing: his emission was quite nasal and plagued by vibrato. The young couple cut a nice figure on stage, very Disney-esque; this feeling was enhanced by the costumes, which were inspired by the animated movie.

John Erik Eleby, a permanent fixture of the Kungliga Operan, did remarkably well as Don Magnifico, Cinderella's stepfather, a clownish drunkard. Eleby enlivened the arrogant, silly character using his experience and his pleasant bass. Jens Persson, as Dandini, the valet disguised as the Prince for most of the opera, was arguably the best singer of the evening. His baritone is smooth and easy on the top, and he managed to lighten up the delivery in something very close to a Rossini style. His natural comic talent made his performance even more enjoyable. Alidoro, the Fairy Godmother character, has only one aria: a bravura piece which Markus Schwartz managed to deliver correctly, albeit with a somewhat generic interpretation.

Karin Osbeck (Tisbe), Jens Persson (Dandini) and Marianne Hellgren Staykov (Clorinda) © Sören Vilks
Karin Osbeck (Tisbe), Jens Persson (Dandini) and Marianne Hellgren Staykov (Clorinda)
© Sören Vilks

The two stepsisters were portrayed by Marianne Hellgren Staykov and Karin Osbeck. Their voices tended to be drowned by the orchestra, but they were very effective in the concertati which, as is typical in Rossini, are complex and spectacularly fast. The male chorus of the Royal Swedish Opera deserves a mention for supporting the performance with great musical precision, both in intonation and in rhythm, and with effective acting skills.