La Cenerentola – minor regrets ultimately overcome

To report, following on from my last post.

Things started badly at the first two orchestral chords: someone had chosen to bring a babe in arms, who promptly burst into tears.  At least she (the mother) was near the exit and left promptly.  I know I should feel sorry for her, but I am really astounded that she thought this was appropriate or that she was even allowed admission.  Perhaps she smuggled the infant in beneath a shawl.  There were still quite a few children left whom I judged to be too young (ie, under 7 or 8).  The music may be simple and cheerful, but the night is long, and the opera is in Italian.

At the start, things were a little flat, and I did begin to regret my exchange.  Why did I think a grade C cast for Rossini was a lesser evil than a grade B cast for Puccini?  And there can be few things worse than humour falling flat, which it was rather doing at this stage.  The orchestral playing was not as acutely energised as it could have been, which doesn’t really meet my ideals of Rossinian “wit.”  I don’t think this was the players’ fault: it seemed to follow from the conductor’s direction. 

There was a dreadful moment in Alidoro’s big aria, La del ciel nell’arcano profondo where the singer simply choked up: it is a big sustained sing which had obviously really taxed him.  I excused him this because my researches and previous experience suggest that this is an almost universal problem with this number, which Rossini inserted on an occasion when he had an unusually good bass available.

Things looked up when Joshua Bloom came on as Dandini, the prince’s butler who is comically made to assume princely disguise: I’d count him a B or even B+ grade singer by Opera Australia standards.  I’m a bit surprised that he didn’t rate a mention in McCallum’s review to which I referred in my previous post.

I can’t say I was really crazy about Richard Alexander as the father, Don Magnifico.  To me, he is always the same kind of buffoon.  But that may really only be that he is always the same person.  Conal Coad at the WA Opera production was much better.

On reflection, the WA Opera cast was stronger over all.  It is true that they had to work in a smaller theatre, but I sit up close enough in the Opera Theatre to preclude this as a factor in my experience or assessment.

Opera Australia’s Prince was Kanen Breen.  He is tall and skinny, and essentially a comic character singer.  He made a good show of his parts in The Rake’s Progress and Tales of Hoffmann. However, some amount of romantic glamour is required to infuse the comedy with the necessary residual elements of a fairy story, even allowing for the librettist’s excision of Perrault’s supernatural elements.  KB affects a comic grin which may serve some vocal production purpose, but I prefer his voice (in this role at least) without the teeth, even though it inclines towards the neat/petite.

Cinderella/Angelina was sung by Dominica Matthews.  I thought she was suffering from a bit of vocal strain which put a not entirely attractive edge on her voice.

I mentioned in my last post that McCallum’s review included some warning of all of this.  As he said: “This production gives a young team valuable opportunities in major roles.”  And he did describe Matthews as  “a promising coloratura mezzo soprano” and her performance as “a creditable role debut.”  A friend said to me at interval when I vented some of my criticisms “Why waste first-rate singers on Cinderella?” but I don’t agree.  It’s often the slightest pieces which need the strongest casts, and this is especially so in Rossini when so much of it is simply about the singing – and there is so much of it! 

Oh my, what a lot of whingeing!  I don’t normally approach operas in a reviewer’s frame of mind: it’s just the exchange question which threw up such evaluative issues.  I try to take any performers on their own terms and enjoy something as it comes – why do otherwise?  As I learnt long ago (at a Sydney University Musical Society performance of Elijah in fact) you should always say, if asked by friends who are in such a performance, “It’s a great work.” There’s a lot to be said for adopting that approach inwardly as well.

And things did lift up anyway.  I had forgotten, in particular, just how effective and splendid a piece of quite old-fashioned stagecraft the sequence in the second act is when the prince’s coach rushes (in silhouette) through a night storm ending in a crash just outside Cinderella’s door.  This fully deserved the audience’s applause.  And in the end, once it rose above initial lameness, so much good humour is hard to resist.

One thing I do like about a lot of Rossini is how sometimes the singing isn’t just about notes, but becomes about the physicality of the words.  Don Magnifico’s two biggest numbers are very much like this (Coad was much better than Alexander at this), and at the denoeuement there is an ensemble which positively bristles with knotty sounds (avviluppato /inviluppa /gruppo /sviluppa /sgruppa /ragruppo).  The ensemble delivered these with relish but there could still have been more for my taste.

I would have liked to have read the review on my fellow Sydney opera-goer’s blog, Prima la musica (etc) but I see that she has obtained a paying gig – or so I presume, for her, and certainly so for me if I want to read it. All power to her, but I’m afraid I draw the line at that for the time being.  After all, this whole evaluative thing was brought on by my new year’s resolution to be frugal.  If there’s anything to regret, it is that, and the consequent decision not to go to La B, rather than the decision to go to La C.

2 Responses to “La Cenerentola – minor regrets ultimately overcome”

  1. Sarah Says:

    I am reviewing Cenerentola for The Opera Critic but will probably have a few bloggish things to say about it too, once I’ve seen it; I’m going tomorrow night. Nice to know you’re reading!

  2. Luxury life « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] when the overall effect was mildly dispiriting – however much, of course, it remained a great work. D gave it two-and-a-half […]

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