Fairytale made less frivolous

Review by Peter Cripps

Glyndebourne Opera Festival, Gioachino Rossini - La Cenerentola, Friday May 25 2012

Rossini’s re-thinking of the classic Cinderella story has been resurrected this year at Glyndebourne to great effect.

The story may be a familiar fairy tale but Lynne Hockney’s revival of Sir Peter Hall’s original 2005 production proved to be a less frivolous event.

There were no gaudy panto-esque sets and no pandering to grotesque portrayals of the ‘Ugly Sisters’ but a more realistic portrait of a once wealthy, if less than noble, family gone to ruin, and their desperate attempt to gain influence and power.

When the lights dimmed at the beginning of the performance, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by James Gaffigan, struck up the sparkling opening number.

The affectedly tattered curtains eventually parted to reveal the opening set of Don Magnifico’s neglected castle with its utterly convincing air of decay.

The action, set in an era contemporary with the composer, fitted this more down-to-earth version where the magical Fairy Godmother is dispensed with in favour of Prince Ramiro’s more sober tutor Alidoro (Shenyang).

It is Alidoro who, as something of a puppet master, manipulates a series of circumstances to bring Don Ramiro (Taylor Stayton) and the downtrodden Cenerentola together.

Cenerentola, played by the American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, gave a powerful performance and set against the domineering sisters Clorinda (Elena Xanthoudakis) and Tisbe (Victoria Yarovaya) and the bullying Don Magnifico (Umberto Chiummo) played the role of the much-abused heroine to perfection.

The music trotted then tiptoed through the first half with only occasional visits to slightly darker territory, with the cast showing amazing vocal dexterity in mastering the often rapid and complicated score with crisp and confident diction.

The performance restarted after the interval – which we spent picnicking whilst watching a man flying a colourful kite, who turned out to be cellist Santiago Carvalho, from the LFO, and the aerial display was just a part of of his wind-down ritual between acts.

The action continued at Don Ramiro’s Palace with it’s towering Doric columns and sweeping stair cases marking a stark contrast from Don Magnifico’s crumbling abode. Don Ramiro’s valet, Dandini (Armando Noguera), was only rivalled in his comedic performance by Don Magnifico and their superbly timed double-act after the interval was faultlessly performed and brought several hearty laughs.

The comedy was, however, well balanced with the menace of the overbearing Don Magnifico and the greedy, vain sisters Clorinda and Tisbe.

After the finale, where the now married Cenerentola - with a stunning display of vocal range - forgives her family for their ill-treatment, the cast received prolonged and well-deserved applause, but the greatest cheer and calls of bravo were reserved for DeShong, with much of the audience giving her a rousing standing ovation.