Dramma giocoso in two acts (1817)
Music by Gioacchino Rossini
Libretto by Jacopo Ferretti (After Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon)
In Italian with English and French surtitles
Rossini obviously wanted his audience to enjoy this drama giocoso (playful drama), to laugh at — and with — his characters. A prime example is Don Magnifico (look at that name!). Through musical choices, Rossini made him a bumbling fool. In one scene, he imbibed “enough wine for three,” twirling around the stage like a buffoon.
While Rossini created humor musically, the librettist — Jacopo Ferretti — shaped jestful interactions through textual means. Much of the dialogue was light banter, oftentimes with slapstick humor. The side exchanges between the prince and his valet were especially funny.
Singers performing in Italian baffle me with how many syllables they can string together in one breath. The language added an extra taste of jovialness to the mostly cheery opera. That being said, the performers’ words were sometimes made unintelligible by the orchestra. I thought the stepfather — Maurizio Muraro — faced the worst of this. (Rossini’s opera changes the standard tale to include a stepfather instead of a stepmother and a godfather instead of a godmother. Pourquoi, I ask.)
Juan José de León excited — but didn’t overwhelm — as the prince. Then again, he was only working with what Rossini gave him. I was often painfully aware of Rossini’s attempts to excite via “those high C’s.” To me these purposeful crescendos to the “applause territory” sound forced.
Teresa Iervolino as Cenerentola and Roberto Tagliavini as her fairy godfather stood out. Iervolino sang poignantly when alone. Versatile, she blended well with the prince in their love duets.
I really liked Tagliavini’s sound. It was both deeply rich and present. The audience adored him too: he received the loudest applause out of anyone in the production. (Side note: with his full beard and long, streaky hair, he looks like a Wagnerian bass.)
From my seat at the side of the hall, I was able to get a clear view of the pit. I thought that the conductor — Ottavio Dantone — lived in the music, with every gesture and cue that he made. His entrances were clear and his decisions well-thought-out. There were some coordination problems, but, in all fairness, Rossini wrote many melismatic, cadenza-like passages that make lining up the singer with the orchestra difficult.
In regards to the orchestra’s performance, I was disenchanted. Tonguing is a skill that woodwinds and brass — especially the reed instruments — practice hours to perfect. At times, however, their articulation was not clean. The music lost its Rossinian sparkle.
One really interesting part of the orchestra was their keyboard instrument. It sounded and looked like a fortepiano. It accompanied the secco recitatives, a style which gradually grew out of fashion over the course of the century.
Above all, tonight’s production disappointed. It was a lazy, one-size-fits-all design. The nondescript castle wall could have worked for any number of operas (Tosca, Rigoletto, Romeo et Juliette, Lucia di Lammermoor, Otello, etc.). As to color choices, the walls inside the palace were a sickly red (did someone die here??). Scaffolds were left clumsily on the stage without any purpose. Evidently, the website’s cover photo deceives (it looks MUCH better online). It seems then that this is one of those “have the singers face forward and do their thing” productions.
I would really like to see what this opera would look like in the heads of an opera company like Theater an der Wien. They, surely, would craft something interesting.
After the performance, I briefly chatted with a fellow concertgoer at the busstop (I use “briefly” because my French is really elementary at this point.). While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the entire performance “moche” (ugly/unsightly) as he did, I’d readily admit that I was underwhelmed. Rossini’s opera has the potential to be exciting, but, in tonight’s guise, it simply couldn’t be. I look forward to stumbling into this work again, hopefully with a new vision.