Joyce DiDonato’s Festival Cinderella

GermanyGermany G. Rossini, La Cenerentola: Soloists, Bavarian State Orchestra, Antonello Allemandi (conductor), National Theater, Munich, 12.7.2012 (JMI)

Production: Bavarian State Opera

Direction: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (original), Grischa Asagaroff (revival)

Sets and costumes: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle


Angelina: Joyce DiDonato
Don Ramiro: Lawrence Brownlee
Don Magnifico. Alessandro Corbelli
Dandini: Nikolay Borchev
Alidoro: Alex Esposito
Clorinda: Eri Nakamura
Tisbe: Paola Gardina

Picture courtesy Bavarian State Opera, © Wilfried Hösl

It is not a bad idea to sandwich a Rossini opera between two by Wagner (Walküre & Siegfried: it makes for excellent contrast. This Cinderella went from less to more, beginning troubled, and finishing triumphantly: a true crescendo, Rossini-style.

The main appeal of this performance of La Cenerentola was undoubtedly Joyce DiDonato, one of the most distinguished Rossini singers of the last years. You can imagine the shock of the audience when Nikolaus Bachler, the Intendant of the theater, appeared on stage to announce that the American star was not feeling well (oohs and ahhwws of disappointment), but that she will make an effort to sing her part, anyway (relieved applause). That’s how the troubled beginning got started.

Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s staging, sets, and costumes were dusted off for the umpteenth time after premiering at this theater 32 years ago. The sets look as is they came straight out of a fairy-tale pop-up book. From the house of Don Magnifico to the final shenanigans at the palace, it’s all about the storytelling, told in good taste, with plenty humor, and through a fun direction. It’s particularly remarkable what Ponnelle—and now Grisha Asagaroff in this revival—does with Cenerentola’s step sisters, who got spontaneous applause from the audience on their appearances.

Antonello Allemandi conduted and was a pleasant surprise. I came without expecting too much, but his conducting proved one of the cornerstones of this successful performance. His reading was full of life, rhythm, and Rossinian sensibility, always aware of what was happening on stage; far more interesting than what Michele Mariotti delivered this year at Valencia. (S&H review here.) The one considerable problem was that Allemandi did not sufficiently reign in the well-playing orchestra’s volume, and too often covered the singers.

Joyce DiDonato began the first act very cautiously, as if she was preserving herself for the famous, difficult final rondo. That would only be natural, except that she did the exact same thing four years ago in Barcelona, where she wasn’t ill: “Her rendering of ‘Nacqui all’afano’ and the following ‘Non più mesta’ were absolutely among the best that can be heard in the theatre [or on record]. But there’s more to Angelina than this rondo… Ms. Di Donato took too many precautions in the rest of the score… so much so that she was sometimes almost inaudible in ensembles.” The same could have been written about her now.

Lawrence Brownlee has everything a Rossini-tenors needs and he uses that well. The voice is pleasant, very agile, and high notes are not a problem for him. If that sounds like Juan Diego Flórez, that’s true but there are important differences: Mr. Brownlee timbre is not as brilliant, his voice projection more problematic, and he doesn’t cut as neat a figure on stage.

Veteran Alessandro Corbelli is one of the followers of the great Italian tradition of basso buffo. His Don Magnifico gained in poise and humor after a wobbly start and delighted the audience in the second act, even if he isn’t vocally at his best anymore. Nikolay Borchev’s casting as Dandini was the most questionable aspect: he’s a lyric baritone and Dandini needs almost a bass-baritone. He did a good job, but I missed a more sonorous lower end of the range and also better diction, which is important in this opera. Alex Esposito was a great Alidoro in every aspect, as were the step sisters who were a real pleasure and who proved that there are no small roles in opera.

José Mª Irurzun