You really do remember your first operas, and the trademark Rossini crescendos, patter songs and general fun to be had mightily impressed this schoolboy in the stalls over 40 years ago when Scottish Opera last mounted a full scale production of La Cenerentola. Back then – and well before surtitles – it was sung in English as plain Cinderella. While the tunes and overall liveliness stayed with me, I had forgotten the huge demands on the singer taking the central role.

Richard Burkhard (Dandini), Máire Flavin, Umberto Chiummo (Don Magnifico) and Rebecca Bottone © Ken Dundas
Richard Burkhard (Dandini), Máire Flavin, Umberto Chiummo (Don Magnifico) and Rebecca Bottone
© Ken Dundas

Scottish Opera’s stylish co-production with Opéra du Rhin brought director Sandrine Anglade’s whole creative team from her own company to Glasgow for the first time. Claude Chestier’s clever set of six latticed rectangular booths glided across the stage seemingly unaided combining together to form Don Ramino’s smart household or Don Alfonso’s more scruffy abode. In a story shorn of pumpkins, strange footmen, a fairy godmother or even a glass slipper (the prim Roman censor was horrified by the connotations) the structures were topped by wooden cutouts of decorative coaches sweeping upwards over Roman pines. Dynamic lighting from Eric Blosse held plenty of interest, and fitted the stylised production.

Rossini described this opera as drama giocosa, or comic with a more serious side and Anglade's production at times strayed into pantomime with strict blocking of the male chorus in post-modern tight fitting grey suits with white ruffs which lit up on special occasions. Overblown ‘fall about’ reactions were funny first time round, but became rather tiresome on repetition. Rossini lets the audience in on the jokes before the characters, and when the regimentation eased up, we got plenty of amusement from a very capable cast of principals all working very hard to tell the well-known tale of simple goodness rewarded.

Umberto Chiummo as puff pink-suited Don Magnifico was a fabulous central bluff character, trying to keep his cabbage-hearted daughters in order, bullying Cenerentola mercilessly and toadying up to Don Ramiro resulting in a glorious aria in the wine cellers. Rebecca Bottone and Máire Flavin made a spry pair of wild-haired jealous sisters, their voices blending together in their anxiety to win over their hearts' desire and improve their station. John Savournin, standing in for an indisposed John Molloy as Alidoro, the begger in disguise and story’s fixer, provided deep gravitas.

Nico Darmanin (Don Ramiro) © Ken Dundas
Nico Darmanin (Don Ramiro)
© Ken Dundas

Maltese tenor Nico Darmanin as Don Ramiro and Richard Burkhard as Dandini also made a comic pair, swapping clothes, throwing everyone into confusion and gleefully tricking the not-so ugly sisters. Vocally, the star of the show was Russian mezzo Victoria Yarovaya, clearly a singer to watch, her feisty Cenerentola starting off with a melancholy plaintive ballad about a king, yet growing throughout the opera into an astonishing finale with finely detailed coloratura in an absolute barnstorming “Nacqui all'affanno”.

Rebecca Bottone (Clorinda), Victoria Yarovaya (Cenerentola) and Máire Flavin (Tisbe) © Ken Dundas
Rebecca Bottone (Clorinda), Victoria Yarovaya (Cenerentola) and Máire Flavin (Tisbe)
© Ken Dundas
   

Musically, in the pit William Lacey kept tempi moving with plenty of sparkle and there was a good balance of exciting playing and tender moments. Things occasionally drifted between stage and pit, but more fundamental problems of balance dogged the evening. This opera is stuffed with patter songs, ensembles which grow from a single voice and crescendo numbers, so it was a shame that Lacey too often swamped his singers, who started off boldly enough, but whose voices were simply lost as orchestral volumes picked up.

On balance, this is a fine looking and sounding show with plenty of humour and, of course, love and forgiveness triumph in the end. A colourful opera with plenty of visual jokes using chairs, brightly lit wine bottles and pencils, and with a playful male chorus in strong voice meant it was never boring. The audience in Theatre Royal, including my neighbours who had bussed in two and a half hours from Lochgilphead, clearly loved it. I found myself wondering how many were attending this as their first ever opera, and hoping it sowed some seeds for the future.