Switzerland Rossini: La Cenerentola, Soloists, Men of the Chorus of the Zurich Opera, Philharmonia Zurich, Giancarlo Andretta (conductor), Zurich Opera, Zurich, 15.01.2015 (RP)
Angelina (Cenerentola): Cecilia Bartoli
Don Ramiro: Lawrence Brownlee
Dandini: Oliver Widmer
Don Magnifico: Carlos Chausson
Clorinda: Sen Guo
Tisbe: Liliana Nikiteanu
Alidoro & Don Ramiros: Roberto Lorenzi
Conductor: Giancarlo Andretta
Scenic Producer: Cesare Lievi
Stage and costume design: Luigi Perego
Lighting: Gigi Saccomandi
Chorus master: Ernst Raffelsberger
The full house for Rossini’s La Cenerentola was undoubtedly due to one of those relatively rare but regular and cherished appearances of Cecilia Bartoli at the Zurich Opera. Zurich’s jewel-box theater is perfectly suited to her talents and charms. For this run, the Zurich Opera assembled a seasoned ensemble of house regulars, with tenor Lawrence Brownlee rounding out the cast as Bartoli’s Prince Charming. The result was a delightful evening of exciting singing and deft stagecraft that brought the audience to its feet.
Bartoli has been singing this role for over 20 years. (I saw her perform it at the Metropolitan Opera in 1997.) The years have been kind to her: the rich, dark lower range is still intact, and the upper extremes of her range are beautiful, although she does tread carefully at times. The delight in language and the amazing execution of the fiendish coloratura are still there. She has few peers in spinning out a lovely, soft legato line. The vocal and physical tics that were once so prominent are now kept in check. She always knew how to communicate to an audience, and over time she has learned how to touch their heart strings.
Lawrence Brownlee was an earnest, noble Ramiro. His sound is warm and even from top to bottom. Likewise, his high notes are spot on and his coloratura impressive. He is a bit one-dimensional as an actor, but he was an apt observer of the injustices served upon his beloved and mystified by her benevolence in forgiving her stepsisters and their father.
Oliver Widmer and Carlos Chausson were superb in their respective roles. Widmer as Dandini reveled in the rapid-fire patter of his first-act aria, “Come un’ape ne’ giorni d’aprile.” It was amazing how fast he could spit out those words. Chausson’s Don Magnifico was a greedy, opportunistic, egoistic codger – a total joy. His voice and energy dominated the stage. The evil stepsisters were entrusted to two marvelous comediennes, Sen Guo and Liliana Nikiteanu. They brought those rather one-dimensional characters to life, abetted by imaginative costumes that made them both vocal and visual tours de force. Up against this quartet, perhaps Brownlee’s decision to play it straight was the only viable option.
When the audience sensed that an announcement was to be made, a murmur arose in the theater, but they were quickly assured that Bartoli was healthy and would appear. It was announced that Shenyang, scheduled to sing the dual roles of Alidoro & Don Ramiros, was ill, and the young bass-baritone Roberto Lorenzi would be performing instead. Lorenzi is a member of the Zurich Opera’s International Opera Studio, and it was indeed good fortune to have someone on hand who knew the role. Singing with poise and displaying a fine young voice, Lorenzi was at ease with the seasoned veterans on stage. No one could possibly have felt shortchanged in this, his debut in the role.
The production was colorful, with costumes and sets evoking the spirit of the Belgian Surrealist artist René Magritte. The men of the chorus wore bowlers and dark suits, often with a blue sky as the backdrop. (This is one of Magritte’s iconic images.) The stepsisters’ party costumes ̶ Clorinda dressed as a mermaid complete with fish scales and tail and Tisbe in an explosion of peacock feathers ̶ were also in the Surrealist spirit. The staging served the music and the plot, but the flying donkey, Act I ending with a food fight, and the wedding cake in the final scene are hardly unique to this staging. Giancarlo Andretta led a buoyant and refined performance with exemplary coordination between pit and stage. It goes without saying that orchestra and chorus were in top form.
There was much to savor in this, the final performance of the run. For the benefit of all, Bartoli kept her star power wattage in check and was a true member of the ensemble. Of course she pulled out all of the stops in her final aria, “Nacqui all’affanno … Non più mesta.” But if any opera ends on a star turn for a diva, it is La Cenerentola.