Geneva’s La Cenerentola proves the perfect antidote to the current health crisis

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Rossini, La Cenerentola: Soloists, Choir of the Grand Théâtre de Genève (Chorus master : Alan Woodbridge), Orchestre de la Suisse Romande / Antonino Fogiani (conductor). Grand Théâtre de Genève, 14.9.2020. (ALL)

Grand Théâtre de Genève’s La Cenerentola (c) Carole Parodi


Director – Laurent Pelly
Scenography – Chantal Thomas
Costumes – Jean-Jacques Delmotte
Lighting – Duane Schuler


Angelina – Anna Goryachova
Don Ramiro – Edgardo Rocha
Dandini – Simone del Salvio
Don Magnifico – Carlo Lepore
Clorinda – Marie Lys
Tisbe – Elena Guseva
Alidoro – Simone Alberghini

We live in difficult times. A number of activities have been hard hit by the current crisis and live art is one of them, as we all know. Free streaming of events is no substitute and cannot provide satisfaction, not to mention the lifeline that the entire musical profession desperately needs. The season premiere at the Grand Théâtre was, however, a wonderful reminder of what live music is about, a masterful reading of a lovely work done with care, imagination and talent.

In Switzerland, live music restarted in early June. The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande gave its first concert back then. Following strict federal guidelines, there were a total of 100 people in the hall. Musicians were seated quite far apart, with the woodwinds behind plexiglass. It was neither easy nor simple, but hearing real sounds was extremely moving. Shortly afterwards, the Grand Théâtre organized a one-hour evening of Wagner and Verdi excerpts and managed to book two recitals by Jonas Kaufmann and Sabine Devieilhe before the close of the season.

Overall plans in Europe are being rethought. Halls are only open with a 25% or so capacity in places like Germany and Switzerland while in Salzburg and probably the whole of Austria, 50% seems to be the norm. Staff at opera houses wear masks and many string players do the same. Spacing in the pit respects safe distancing.

This has unexpected consequences. One can feel that there is good concentration with halls full of ‘connoisseurs only’. Very few cough, and those who do are frowned upon as if they were potential murderers. More significantly in the opera house, great arias no longer seem to bring the house down or receive warm applause – let us not forget we are talking about soft-spoken, understated Switzerland here – as the audience is sparse.

In Geneva, the Grand Théâtre had to replace the original production of Puccini’s Turandot, which is too chorus intensive to satisfy current regulations, with Rossini’s La Cenerentola, which was among the productions of last season that had to be scrapped. If there is a silver lining to the situation, it is that singers whose agendas are usually full decades in advance could be easily rebooked. Another one would be that star producers such as Laurent Pelly, whose works travel around the world on revivals which do not have the original cachet, was here, it seems, for the entire set of rehearsals. This was clearly visible. The production was a virtuosic tour de force. There was not a single moment without an idea highlighting text or music but, at the same time, there was not a single moment where the action was hard to follow or overblown. This was perfectly attuned to Rossini’s rhythmic fervour and bubbly humour.

While there were plenty of laughs and slapstick jokes, there was also a clear conception to the work. The world of the prince is an idealized dream, one with pink-coloured shades in contrast with the real world in which Cenerentola and her siblings live. There was also no genuine happy ending. It is unclear if Don Magnifico and Cenerentola’s sisters recognize their errors. They seem to disappear at the end in a lovely dance out of which emerges a lonely Cenerentola mopping the floor as she was at the beginning.

Inspired by Pelly’s production, Anna Goryachova’s portrayal was superb. Hers was a hyperactive Cenerentola, unable to stop working, consumed by a burning desire to please and but without the right to a certain level of happiness and fulfillment. It was funny but also telling to see how she could not resist cleaning the spotless carriage which Don Magnifico made appear. We were reminded that the passages where she appears as a wonderful princess are, ultimately, fairly brief. The magnificent ending was moving, something one cannot always say about Rossini’s comic works. Cenerentola’s pardon had a special intensity but we felt something would not last. Anne Goryachova looked the part and vocally had gorgeous coloratura and fitting dark colours that matched the role perfectly.

The cast around her was well-balanced. Simone del Salvio had paternalistic swagger. Edgardo Rocha has lovely top notes that made Rossini’s demanding writing a breeze. The two sisters, Marie Syls and Elena Guseva, were well-matched, physically, and vocally. The men’s chorus were in top form. Gone were the little imprecisions which marred previous premières.

If anyone doubts that one can conduct effectively with a face mask, Antonio Fogiani proved it is feasible. The small-sized orchestra was clear, and the conductor maintained an Italian pulse throughout. As is often the case at premières, one could feel the musicians were perhaps playing it safe, but as the evening progressed everyone settled in and expression deepened. Anyone going now should find a polished cast and ensemble.

As I said, we live in difficult times and attending an opera when only 25% of the audience is allowed in is unusual. But artists have a strong message for us, more important now than ever. There may be some who are still cautious about returning to a live theatre and this is totally understandable. But current performances respect the letter of the law. When I leave my home to shop for bread, there are more people around, and they are closer to me than at the opera. Believe me, wearing a face mask for three hours is no problem at all when listening to delightful music like this.

Antoine Lévy-Leboyer

For more about Grand Théâtre de Genève click here.

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