Dresden’s La Cenerentola Enchants and Entertains

 

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GermanyGermany Rossini: La Cenerentola: Soloists, Men of the Saxon State Opera Choir, Saxon Staatskapelle Dresden / Henrik Nánási (conductor), Semper Opera House, Dresden, Germany, 23.5. 2013 (MC)

Cast:

Angelina: Anke Vondung
Clorinda: Roxana Incontrera
Tisbe: Angela Liebold
Don Ramiro: Francisco Brito
Dandini: Allen Boxer
Don Magnifico: Michael Eder
Alidoro: Alexander Hajek

Production:

Staging: Steffen Piontek
Set Design and Costume Design: Martin Rupprecht
Lighting Design: Jan Seeger
Choirmaster: Christof Bauer

 

Rossini La Cenerentola, photo © Matthias Creutziger
Rossini La Cenerentola, photo © Matthias Creutziger

It was good to be back at the Semper Opera House Dresden for a Saxon State Opera production. Rossini’s two act opera La Cenerentola is a much loved favourite and under the stage direction of Steffen Piontek it promised to be an entertaining production.

First staged in 1817 the twenty five year old composer, already at the peak of his powers, had tasted success only the year previously with his masterpiece Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville). To give it its full title La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo (Cinderella, or Goodness Triumphant) is a two act opera described as a dramma giocosowhich is a type of comic opera with a rather sentimental plot often dealing with misfortune. The opera libretto by Jacopo Ferretti, is based on the traditional fairy tale Cendrillon (Cinderella) by French author Charles Perrault. which I should think everyone must know from their childhood. Here the wicked stepmother is swapped for a wicked stepfather Don Magnifico. The opera is set sometime in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century in the dilapidated mansion of the penniless Don Magnifico, the Baron of Montefiascone. For La Cenerentola’s overture, one of the finest in the classical repertoire, Rossini recycled the music from the overture to his opera La gazzetta. With this much admired overture Maestro Henrik Nánási with his moderately sized Staatskapelle Dresden gave a judiciously paced and buoyant performance that set the tone splendidly. In fact their playing was impeccable all evening. I loved the way the Hungarian maestro allowed suitable pauses in the music for the audience to show their appreciation after an aria and to allow the singer time to take a bow if they wished.

As the curtains opened Martin Rupprecht’s boldly colourful and cleverly effective set design made quite an impact. The primary feature on the set was a parapet running the full width of the stage. This enabled action to take place looking down onto the open, ramshackle living quarters of the Don’s mansion with a spiral staircase joining the two. German mezzo-soprano Anke Vondung excelled as the downtroden, apron wearing skivvy Angelina singing all of her arias to telling effect. Vondung can certainly act as well as sing, bringing just enough vulnerability and pathos to her Cinderella role that virtually ties her to the kitchen range. Her creamy, dark tinged voice felt moderately attractive with a quite marvellous clarity of diction and mightily impressive projection. As I expected, Vondung’s coloratura improved as the evening wore on and her stunning closing act 2 scene and rondo, “Nacqui all’affanno … Non piu mesta” was her finest contribution. Striking in his yellow and black jacket with black breeches and later in a sparkling black frock coat and riding boots Argentine tenor Francisco Brito as Prince Ramiro made a dashing suitor. Bringing great energy and enthusiasm together with a highly charged emotion to the role Brito reminded me greatly of inspiring American tenor Neil Shicoff. Compellingly the bright lyric tenor in his act 2 aria “Si, ritrovarla io giuro” displayed his considerable vocal agility, able to slide through his range rapidly and holding his high notes with ease.

This is the second time in two seasons that I have seen Allen Boxer at Saxon State Opera productions at the Semperoper. As Dandini, servant to Prince Ramiro, once again the American baritone acquitted himself well controlling his engaging voice splendidly. Pretending to be the Prince, dressed dandy-like in a cream frock coat and breeches sporting a greeny-brown waistcoat Boxer gave his all to his act 1 aria “Come un’ape ne’ giorni d’aprile”. As the impoverished Don Magnifico, Michael Eder had the audience in the palm of his hand. The experienced Vienna born bass, decked out in a muiticoloured dress coat with matching knee breeches and shoes, seemed born to the role of the baron and stole the show. In the act 1 cavatina “Miei rampolli femminini” when the baron threatens to disown his daughters one noticed Eder’s rock steady vocal control and crystal clear diction. His deep resonant timbre really projected well providing a fine tonal mix with the other voices. Displaying a remarkable stage presence Eder’s subtle yet highly effective hand and body movements, and facial expressions were quite exquisite. Clorinda played by Roxana Incontrera and Tisbe by Angela Liebold played their step sister roles with energy and goodly enthusiam. As the self-serving Clorinda the Romanian born soloist was memorable and highly amusing certainly making the best of her part.

Superbly drilled by Christof Bauer the Men of the Saxon State Opera Choir performed with credit and their characterful signing certainly added to the success of the production. Clearly a lot of thought, effort and fine detail had been put into their costume design by Martin Rupprecht. I can vividly picture the point early in the opera when the male chorus first appears dressed in turquoise uniforms, purple boots, black wigs and turquoise top hats all assembled on the parapet breathtakingly silhouetted against a backdrop of a blue/grey sky. Later on the male chorus were robed in red velvet frockcoats with gold piping and sashes. Tri-corn hats hung round their necks with red feathers in their hair to serve as quill pens for their ledgers. The special effects were terrific. I fondly recall the descent and ascent of the hot air balloon basket both at the beginning and the end of the production. Like most of the audience in act 2 I nearly jumped out of my seat at the sudden lightning bolt that heralded the onset of the storm which blew away part of the Baron’s ramshackle mansion.

Steffen Piontek’s production of La Cenerentola was quite enchanting. I cannot imagine anyone leaving the Semperoper not feeling entertained and uplifted.

Michael Cookson