domingo, 7 de junio de 2015

Goofy and charming: Rossini’s Cenerentola at the Opéra de Rennes

Foto: Laurent Guizard

Suzanne Daumann

It’s a tradition by now: every two years, the Opéra de Rennes shares its end-of-season production with a large public outside the opera house: telecasts to thirteen Breton towns, live stream on France Musique, and transmission to a big screen right on the square outside of the opera house – everyone is invited to celebrate opera this day.  Rennes, by the way, is the only opera house in France to offer such a possibility. Rossini’s Cenerentola being a feast in its own right, it takes only an intelligent staging and cast for the celebration to be a success. This version of the Cinderella story, let’s remember, is slightly different from what Perrault or the brothers Grimm tell us: The prince and Cinderella meet for the first time in Cinderella’s house, before the ball, and fall in love at first sight. No fairy godmother, no enchanted hazel bush for Cinderella to help with preparations for the ball, but the prince’s tutor, Alidoro, a wise and gentle magician. And Cinderella doesn’t have a vicious stepmother, but a greedy and selfish stepfather. The Cinderella story, come to think of it, is more that just a silly fable to remind girls to be good at all times. The late Jérôme Savary’s staging respects its tender and deeper side.  Resuscitated by Frédérique Lombard, charming and witty, it is situated in the 19th century. The colourful costumes contrast deliciously with the lovely trompe-l’oeuil backgrounds, all in subdued colours. From the overture, the Rossinian spirit is fully present. Darrell Ang conducts the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne with precision and finesse in the complicated score with its many tempo and intensity changes. Once or twice, the orchestra covers the singers a bit, but on the whole, stage and pit are finely united. The woodwinds, especially, are much in demand and rise up to the challenge with brio, as always. The two sisters are making a remarkable entry. Anna Steiger, Tisbe, and Jeannette Fischer, Clorinda, are stealing the stage a bit, they are so funny and present, ridiculously capering and cooing, that one almost forgets their remarkable singing. Strawberry and apricot, they are the fruits of the party. Just like the spoilt children they are, they are commenting on every word, every dialogue of the adults, calling their presence to mind every moment. It would be too much, were it not so well done, for instance when Clorinda does the old Harpo Marx stunt and tries to get everyone she meets to hold up her knee. Very fortunately, the rest of the cast is perfectly up to the challenge. Angelina, la Cenerentola, is played by the wonderful mezzo-soprano José Maria Lo Monaco. With her light and ample voice and its soft and golden timbre, she is an ideal Cenerentola, modest and innocent, yet very much present. Pure caramel with salted butter! Well one understands the prince Ramiro who falls in love with her on first sight. Tenor Daniele Zanfardino gives him life and voice. Suave and energetic, an accomplished belcantist, he masters all the difficulties of the part. Mint and chocolate ice cream: who’d have thought that this would go so well with the caramel! The duos are simply delicious, their voices blending together so harmoniously. Another variation from the original story is the character of Dandini, the prince’s valet.  He has to change clothes with his master, in order to find out the real character of the two engaging maidens. The excellent baritone Marc Scoffoni plays him with a kind of comic grace that would also suit an Offenbach opera. A real dandy, he swaggers and dances and prances like a circus horse, seemingly having royal fun all the while. Fine and crisp, here is an apple tart for you. Bruno Praticò, baritone, plays Don Magnifico, the greedy stepfather. An experienced Don Magnifico, he is goofy and yet touching. A glass of red wine, Montepulciano maybe, light and earthy. Luigi de Donato, bass, last but not least, interprets Alidoro. With his warm and soft voice, pure musical chocolate, he delivers his grand aria in Act II with energy and resounding low notes. Delightful, how he sketches a few dance steps with Angelina during the postlude. Delightful, the choreographies by Frédérique Lombart. The choir, conducted by Gildas Pungier, is magnificent, precise and musical, as usual. All in all, a lovely Rossini evening, that ends with largely deserved huge applause, and one regrets not to be able to attend the grand telecast night. 

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