When a young relative heard that I was going to see an operatic Cinderella, she promptly asked me whether the mice would be singing. For young generations brought up on Disney, a version without pumpkins, an evil stepmother and a fairy godmother is baffling; Rossini’s version retains the two stepsisters, but has an abusive, bibulous stepfather, Don Magnifico, with plenty of bluster. Instead of a fairy, we have the prince’s tutor, Alidoro, disguised initially as a tramp, on a reconnaissance to find a maiden of true heart for his master. The infamous glass slipper is here a bracelet, helpfully identifying Cenerentola (born Angelina) to the prince when his coach conveniently crashes outside her home.

Victoria Simmonds (Angelina) and Nico Darmanin (Ramiro) © Robert Workman
Victoria Simmonds (Angelina) and Nico Darmanin (Ramiro)
© Robert Workman

Rossini’s speed of composition is almost as famous as the subject of this opera, written in just three weeks in 1817 when the composer was just twenty-five, hot on the heels of Il barbiere di Siviglia. While there are demanding vocal pyrotechnics, for mezzo and tenor in particular, which can make or break a performance, a really good production has to unlock the charm of the opera. Director Oliver Platt did just that with a warm, feel-good production at Opera Holland Park. Platt kept the traditional setting, all stockings and livery; the action took place within a cleverly designed semi-circular set that switched easily via rotating panels from the Magnifico manor to the prince’s palace. In the manor, Magnifico’s bed was centre stage, with a dressing table for each of his daughters on either side. An haute cuisine smear of coal at the front led to a parallel seat for Cenerentola – not a dressing table, but the kitchen stove. Peeling wallpaper hinted strongly at the financial decline of the family. Emma Brunton’s choreography deserves an honourable mention – some well coordinated ensemble scenes could have been muddled without such clear and elegant arrangements from her, and I particularly enjoyed the construction and depiction of coach travel created by the assembled cast and several umbrellas.

Victoria Simmonds, Nico Darmanin, Nicholas Lester (Dandini) and Jonathan Veira (Don Magnifico) © Robert Workman
Victoria Simmonds, Nico Darmanin, Nicholas Lester (Dandini) and Jonathan Veira (Don Magnifico)
© Robert Workman

Cenerentola was sung by Victoria Simmonds. Instantly likeable in the role with a combination of credible idealism and steel, her singing was spot on. Rossini capped her part with the famous “Non più mesta”; the ease with which she dealt with the trills and fireworks at the top of the voice was on show throughout the evening. Limpid phrasing and clarity of tone added to the more immediate impact of her impeccable top notes. Ramiro, her handsome prince, was sung by Nico Darmanin, deploying a ringing Italianate tenor, whose top notes were lengthily and thrillingly held. The Act II aria “Si, ritrovarla io giuro” is one of the most well-known and formidable showcases for tenor in Rossini’s entire selection and Darmanin dispatched it fearlessly. His head-over-heels approach to certain moments in the plot was movingly done.

<i>La Cenerentola</i> finale © Robert Workman
La Cenerentola finale
© Robert Workman

Jonathan Veira gave us a classic opera buffa performance as Don Magnifico and it was debatable whether his voice or his acting was more honed. Booming stridently and full of comic colour, he drew many justified laughs and confirmed his reputation as a first rate comic bass-baritone, for whom the rapid pace of patter singing holds no fear. Nicholas Lester’s forceful baritone was well suited to singing Dandini, showing heft and a fine ability to inject a sense of mirth to the voice. His interactions with Don Magnifico in Act II, revealing his real identity as a servant, was full of glee and a real highlight. Barnaby Rea’s Alidoro was solemn and majestic, deploying an expansive bass that soared over the orchestra. The little gleam in Rea’s eye made him just that little more human. The nasty sisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, sung by Fleur de Bray and Heather Lowe respectively, were supremely catty, conveying plenty of spite in their stunted, twisted lines.

Playing from the City of London Sinfonia under Dane Lam fulfilled the three Ps of good Rossini comedy: pert, perky and playful. The Opera Holland Park Chorus did not lack for power and tune; their enthusiasm was infectious. Anyone seeking comic uplift must look no further than Holland Park this month.