Keep the Slipper: La Cenerentola in Valencia

SpainSpain Rossini, La Cenerentola: Soloists, Valencian Community Orchestra, Valencia Regional Government Choir, Michele Mariotti (conductor), Valencia’s Palau de Les Arts, 25.11.2011 (JMI)

Production: Rossini Opera Festival
Direction: Luca Ronconi
Sets: Marguerita Palli
Costumes: Carlo Maria Diappi
Lighting: Guido Levi (original), Carletti (revival)

Angelina: Serena Malfi
Prince Ramiro: Dmitri Korchak
Don Magnifico: Paolo Bordogna
Dandini: Mario Cassi
Alidoro: Simon Lim
Clorinda: María José Moreno
Tisbe: Cristina Faus

If I am not mistaken, La Cenerentola was last seen in Spain some 4 years ago, at Barcelona’s Liceu with Joyce Didonato and Juan Diego Florez. What a difference that made!

Valencia hosts the 13 year old Luca Ronconi production from the Rossini Opera Festival which was last revived in Pesaro last summer. Ronconi’s work was praised back in 1998 and it remains an attractive production: It is very much in Ronconi’s style, but time has not helped it. The sets are attractive, with Don Magnifico’s mansion as a jungle of furniture on various levels which gives way to the palace of Prince Ramiro in an on-stage scene change that is interesting the first time around, but gets a little boring when you see it repeated two more times. The palace consists of several modules that double as large and richly ornamented fire places. Costumes are fun and most appealing—at least those for the two stepsisters, whereas the rest of the cast and the chorus were rather less noteworthy.

The stage direction was sloppy on this occasion, leaving the stage-success heavily reliant on the acting skills of the performers. In this respect, Don Magnifico and his family were better off than the inhabitants of the Prince’s Palace. It’s a pity with Ronconi’s productions that the circumstantial appeal (sets, costumes – a throwback to times when gorgeousness ruled the stage) so rarely translate into life-like drama on stage, because actual direction and blocking are not up to today’s standards.

Michele Mariotti conducted a disappointing performance – much as he did at Bilbao in L’Italiana in Algeri. To conduct an work like La Cenerentola it is imperative that the conductor loves and really enjoys the work, and that he transmits that joy to stage, pit, and public. Even at over 80 years, someone like Alberto Zedda still pulls that off every time. That’s not the case with Michele Mariotti who remained short of spark and joy with patches of excessive volume. Control and coordination are to be expected from a decent conductor, and Michele Mariotti delivers on those counts, but that’s simply not enough in this repertoire. The Orchestra showed its high quality, but weren’t at their best either.

Angelina/Cenerentola was performed by the young (26) Italian mezzo soprano Serena Malfi, who did not rise above mediocrity. The character requires something akin to a contralto, easy at coloratura. Serena Malfi is a lyric mezzo, with a pleasant voice of rather small volume, almost inaudible through her middle range when the orchestra plays above pianissimo. Serious pitch problems at the upper range further add to the trouble.

Dmitri Korchak sang Prince Ramiro in a fine performance: with gusto in the duets (though his voice is not particularly attractive and his breath control modest), and really shining in his big scene in Act II, where he hit all the top notes of the score in the right sequence.

Paolo Bordogna was an excellent basso buffo in the best Italian tradition and was rightly the favorite of the audience with his fun and flawless stage performance. Vocally, I prefer a deeper, heavier voice for the part.

Mario Cassi as was miscast as Dandini. The character is a buffo bass-baritone, something lighter than Don Magnifico, but never as light a baritone as Cassi is, inaudible at the low end of the register. He’s not even a good actor, so the character of Dandini was missing in every respect.

Korean Simon Lim was not well suited for the lines Rossini gives Alidoro with his rough, volume-rich but timbre-poor voice. Maria Jose Moreno on the other hand was a luxury Clorinda. Given her quality and especially since this production has in the past retained the often-cut Clorinda aria (as it did in Pesaro) it was a real shame that it was cut here, where it would have been a certain hightly with such a marvelous soprano.

José Mª Irurzun