Last night’s opera from Irish National Opera was a stylish affair with excellent soloists, a fine chorus and fairy-tale sets. Its story is the very familiar moralistic tale where Love and Goodness triumph over a cruelly, degrading familial servitude though in Rossini’s version there is neither a fairy godmother nor a stepmother, only a stepfather who metes out the same appalling treatment to Cinderella.

Andrew Owens (Prince Ramiro) and Tara Erraught (Cinderella) © Patrick Redmond
Andrew Owens (Prince Ramiro) and Tara Erraught (Cinderella)
© Patrick Redmond

Director Orpha Phelan’s conception of the opera was in general as light-hearted as Rossini intended, though the darker elements of the story were also flagged. There were some puzzling intertextual references to other fairy-stories (Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood etc) which started during the overture and then recurred during the court scenes with random characters popping up here and there in slightly distracting fashion. While it did involve a fair few children actors, which was nice to see, it brought more puzzlement than light to the opera.

Nicky Shaw’s sets were cleverly designed with illustrations from a fairy story book forming the backdrop to Cinderella’s house. The use of enormous covers of old-fashioned children’s books as the backdrop to the palace created an Alice-in-Wonderland-like enchanted space and was put to good effect for amusing entrances and exits. Shaw’s colourful 18th-century costumes coupled with Muime Bloomer’s imaginative choreography signalled a visually attractive production that appealed to all ages.

Riccardo Novaro (Dandini), Tara Erraught (Cinderella) and Andrew Owens (Prince Ramiro) © Patrick Redmond
Riccardo Novaro (Dandini), Tara Erraught (Cinderella) and Andrew Owens (Prince Ramiro)
© Patrick Redmond

Irish mezzo soprano Tara Erraught was in fine voice as our heroine. Possessed of a fine, pearly voice, Erraught captured the audience’s attention as much as she annoyed her sisters from the start with her plaintive “una volta c’era un rè”. Dispatching her virtuosic scales and high-notes with seemingly effortless ease, she beguiled us all with her rich coloratura and golden tone. A confident presence, Erraught brought her Cinderella alive, perfectly capturing her charming innocence on meeting the prince for the first time, while she imbued her character with a certain understandable feistiness when dealing with her dreadful sisters. Her last moments of the opera, where she forgives her awful family, were truly winning and even a cynic would be melted by such an angelic voice where goodness is to be triumphant “e trionfi la bontà”.

While Cinderella might have the title role, there are six other very demanding and important soloist roles. Tenor Andrew Owens grew into his role as Prince Ramiro, his voice opening wonderfully by the second act to show his stunning high register where he regularly hit the high C or D effortlessly. Dramatically, he exhibited little on-stage chemistry with his beloved, his preference being to prance slowly around the set. What his master lacked dramatically, his valet Dandini made up for him. Dressed up in the style of Louis XIV for his change of identity with his master, baritone Riccardo Novaro was deliberately hesitant at first, unsure of his princely role, but growing increasingly confident to good comic effect. The other baritone was the prince’s tutor, Alidoro, sung impressively by David Oštrek. His voice was powerful with darker hues in the lower tones and coupled with his impressive stature, he made for a commanding presence which suited his role as overseer of his master’s destiny.

<i>La Cenerentola</i> by Irish National Opera © Patrick Redmond
La Cenerentola by Irish National Opera
© Patrick Redmond

Bass Graeme Danby made for a slightly irritating Don Magnifico. Between hamming up his comedic moments and becoming incandescent with rage at the slightest provocation, he lacked a light-hearted touch and genuine funniness. Vocally too, he was less than impressive, with a less-than-huge projection so that his patter speech lacked the crisp clarity that the role calls for.

The two sisters, Clorinda sung by Rachel Croash and Tisbe sung by Niamh O’Sullivan, were suitably nasty, calculating and catty. Their voices shone out brightly and their rapid patter speech was sung with great gusto.

The male-voiced chorus of courtiers sang with vim and vigour and evidently enjoyed acting out their parts to the full, whether entering via a slide or taking back the Prince’s coat from his valet Dandini. As the melodramatics occupied the action on stage, conductor and artistic director Fergus Sheil was holding it all together in the pit. The orchestra of Irish National Opera made the music fizz with energy and excitement throughout bringing this opera to a triumphant close.

***11