First published in the Guardian on 16 October, 2014
Rossini’s 1817 opera is basically a comedy; there’s an indubitable daftness to the characters, a gleeful frivolity to much of the music. Yet it’s also a socially-conscious retelling of the Cinderella tale. The title character is lifted out of hardship not by any flick of a fairy-godmother’s wand but by her own kindness – it’s the simple humanity of being charitable to a beggar that earns her a ticket to the ball.
Any good staging will convey this wholesome moral message with moments of comic gold. Scottish Opera’s new co-production with Strasbourg’s Opera national du Rhin doesn’t really do either. Directed by Sandrine Anglade, it’s a fairly decent, largely forgettable effort that is neither particularly funny nor particularly profound. Claude Chestier’s visuals are handsome enough but a bit all over the place, with tired tricks (multiple umbrellas) and vacuous gimmicks (all those luminous ruffs).
Musically it’s a mixed bag, too. The overture was a non-starter – no tension in the opening bars – but things picked up. Conductor William Lacey keeps tempos bouncing along and the orchestra generally sounds taught and bright. There doesn’t seem to be much logic to the casting: the voices don’t match in size or style, making for slightly awkward ensemble pieces. John Molloy hasn’t got the right gravitas for Alidoro; Nico Darmanin’s tenor is a little pinched but he scales Don Ramiro’s stratospheric Act II with aplomb. Standing in as Don Magnifico, Umberto Chiummo is the classic fool, gangly and hapless rather than anything more malicious or interesting. Best are the three women. Rebecca Bottone and Maire Flavin sing nimbly and have fun as the stepsisters, all swivelling hips and mouths agog. Victoria Yarovaya is rather terrific as Cenerentola: velvet low register and dazzling coloratura to boot. It’s worth sitting through this production for her final scene alone.