Ireland Rossini, La Cenerentola: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Irish National Opera / Fergus Sheil (conductor). Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, 16.11.2019. (RB)
Director – Orpha Phelan
Set & Costume designer – Nicky Shaw
Lighting designer – Matt Haskins
Choreographer – Muirne Bloomer
Angelina – Tara Erraught
Don Ramiro – Andrew Owens
Clorinda – Rachel Croash
Tisbe – Niamh O’Sullivan
Alidoro – David Oštrek
Don Magnifico – Graeme Danby
Dandini – Riccardo Novaro
Irish National Opera is still in its infancy but it has already received a series of glowing reviews. They brought another successful year to a close with this sparkling new production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola.
Rossini wrote La Cenerentola immediately after The Barber of Seville when he was at the height of his creative powers. It was first performed in 1817 and it has proved to be one of the composer’s most popular and enduring operas. It is, of course, based on the Cinderella fairy tale but there are some key differences. In Rossini’s version of the story the wicked stepmother is replaced by the scheming stepfather, Don Magnifico; the fairy godmother is replaced by the prince’s wise tutor, Alidoro; and Cinderella, whom Rossini names Angelina, is identified by her bracelet rather than a glass slipper. The full title of the opera is Cinderella, or Goodness Triumphant and it is very much the story of how Angelina’s goodness triumphs over her adversities and wins the day.
Orpha Phelan’s production successfully blends the fairy tale magic with some of the darker elements in the story. When the Overture plays we see the front covers of various fairy stories projected on to the curtain including Peter Pan, Little Red Riding Hood and Puss in Boots and key characters from these tales come to life before our eyes. In the first act, giant pages from a storybook provide a colourful backdrop to Cinderella’s house. When Alidoro turns a page towards the end of the act, we see Cinderella’s coach which she enters through a door in the set. In the second act, the spines of giant storybooks form the interior architecture to the prince’s palace and at various points these are turned into shelves, doors and chutes through which characters make their entrances and exits. As the opera progresses, many of the characters from the other fairy tales turn up adding a splash of visual colour.
Like all good fairy tales, Orpha Phelan’s production succeeds brilliantly in bringing out the very dark shadows in this story. It is worth reflecting on the fact that the fairy stories of the Brothers Grimm contain many dark and extremely disturbing elements. In their version of Cinderella, the half- sisters mutilate their feet to fit into the glass slipper and at the end of the tale they are blinded by birds. In this production Angelina is truly pitiful as she pleads to be allowed to go to the ball while Don Magnifico greets her with callous indifference. As she encroaches on the affections of the prince, Don Magnifico and his daughters become increasingly vicious and at one point threaten to slit her throat. Rossini was insistent, however, that goodness should be triumphant and Angelina’s final act of forgiveness towards her erstwhile oppressors was very moving.
Tara Erraught was absolutely terrific in the title role of Angelina. She negotiated Rossini’s highly intricate coloratura, scales and roulades with effortless ease while soaring up to the top of the vocal register. Erraught brought a rich humanity to the role, showing kindness to Alidoro’s beggar and a love-struck innocence with the prince. However, she also stood up for herself when confronted with the torments of her horrendous half-sisters. Her rendition of the highly virtuosic ‘Non più mesta’ was one of the best performances I have heard and the final descending golden scales was a moment of unadulterated joy. I was also extremely impressed by David Oštrek in the role of Alidoro. At various points we saw him silently watching the action from the sidelines, contemplating his plan gradually coming to fruition. His brought a rich tone and wonderful dark colours to the vocal line and his performance of Alidoro’s Act I aria was a tour de force and one of the highlights of the opera.
The rest of the cast also acquitted themselves well. Andrew Owens proved a gallant Don Ramiro and he negotiated Rossini’s tricky vocal line well. I was impressed with how cleanly he was able to hit the top notes without any indication of vocal strain. My overall impression was that he had not quite nailed the role yet, but he is clearly growing into the part and it was an impressive performance nonetheless. Graeme Danby hammed it up magnificently as Don Magnifico and did an excellent job balancing the humour in the role with the elements of threat and menace. He has a strong voice, although he was not always consistent and his tone seemed a little thin at the beginning of the second act. Riccardo Novaro brought Ramiro’s sidekick valet, Dandini, brilliantly to life. He generally did well with Rossini’s tongue twisting coloratura, although occasionally I would have liked to hear more of the sparkle and brilliance in the writing. Rachel Croash and Niamh O’Sullivan were both superb in the roles of the wicked half-sisters. I particularly enjoyed the scene where O’Sullivan twirled a ribbon at Dandini in a highly inappropriate way in order to engage his romantic affections. Croash and O’Sullivan were both technically very secure and they excelled in Rossini’s rapid patter scales and vocal effects.
Fergus Sheil ensured cast chorus and orchestra remained on course throughout the performance. He brought out the sparkle and sense of fun in the overture and his choice of tempi seemed spot on. There was an excellent balance between the singers and the orchestra and I was particularly impressed with some of the exchanges between the singers and the woodwind. There was a sense of winning exhilaration in the ensemble numbers although on one or two occasions the tempo seemed to run away with itself a little. The male chorus also acquitted themselves well and provided excellent support to the cast.
Overall, this was a first-rate production and Tara Erraught is clearly destined to become one of the great Angelinas.
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