With whom would you want to celebrate the 200th anniversary of this most jubilant of operas that is La Cenerentola, Rossini’s Cinderella story? My guess would be that many opera-goers, both experienced and novice, would have Cecilia Bartoli topping their shortlist. Rossini is the composer that propelled her to stardom and La Cenerentola has been one of her signature role since she sang it under the baton of Riccardo Chailly at Bologna’s Teatro Comunale 25 years ago. The Roman diva was undoubtedly the star of the show here at the Concertgebouw, although her colleagues certainly all contributed in making the evening a celebration worthy of such a bicentennial.

Cecilia Bartoli and Ugo Guagliardo © Pascal Amos (from Dortmund performance)
Cecilia Bartoli and Ugo Guagliardo
© Pascal Amos (from Dortmund performance)

Presumably in order to accommodate a hectic tour schedule, Claudia Blersh’s mise en espace only makes use of few props, a sofa and a chair placed at the front of the podium, and uses changes in lighting – including the flashing of the hall’s candelabras during the thunderstorm in Act 2 – to suggest a change in mood or place. It also uses costumes by Luigi Perego, the most memorable of which are the ridiculously camp ball gowns designed for the stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, that make them look like a mermaid and a peacock. Ms Bartoli’s Cinderella wears a simple servant attire, until she appears at the Prince’s ball in a light-reflecting silver ball gown, and finally gets married in a suitably princess-like white wedding dress. However what brings the performance to life really is the dynamic acting from and agile interaction between all involved on the podium. The team spirit, presumably resulting from previous work and personal affinity between the principals, is palpable and transcends the lack of full-blown staging to create an exuberant comedy.

Les Musiciens du Prince, a Monaco-based period instrument orchestra funded only last year, gave a vivid yet always elegant performance, matched by the male members of the chorus of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo. Ensembles were managed by conductor Gianluca Capuano with virtuosic balance.

Sen Guo and Irène Friedli, two singers  attached to the Zurich Opera, were hilariously detestable as the stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe. Carlos Chausson sang stylishly and, more than others, let the menacing side of the stepfather perspire behind the buffoonery of Don Magnifico. Dressed in a white suit adorned with wings, Ugo Guagliardo was a particularly young-sounding Alidoro, Cinderella’s “fairy godfather”.  In contrast, Alessandro Corbelli was, a particularly mature Dandini which, when he first went disguised as the prince, added an extra dimension to the trick played on the two sisters. The veteran Rossinian did not appear to be in such good voice on the night, his baritone sounding somewhat monochromic, but his consummate acting skills made for a vivid characterization. As Don Ramiro, the young Uruguayan tenor Edgardo Rocha both looks and sounds quite the dashing Prince Charming. The voice is very flexible, the timbre bright and seductive, perfectly suited to this repertoire. His performance of the showpiece aria “Sì, ritorvarla io giuro” earned him some of the loudest cheering of the evening.

It was Cecilia Bartoli’s 25th performance at the Concertgebouw, and something perhaps extra special as, instead of singing a concert program which had been the case in most of the previous times, she was singing the title role in a full-length opera. Her fans certainly weren’t disappointed. From the melancholic first  “Una volta c’era un re” sung by the mistreated servant to the joyous vocal fireworks of “Non più mesta” by the newlywed, Ms Bartoli offered an expressive, at times moving, portrayal of the fairytale character. She demonstrated again her unique way to bite into the words, each line was coloured with expression, and the fast coloratura passages were executed with her trademark machine-gun precision. Rumours – albeit unconfirmed – have it that this tour could be her farewell to the role. If it were to be true, it would be more reason still to cherish the memory of this fresh-sounding and most endearing of Cenerentolas.

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