Royal Northern Sinfonia, the UK’s only full-time chamber orchestra, lifts Nevill Holt Opera’s La Cenerentola

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Nevill Holt Opera 2023 – Rossini, La Cenerentola: Soloists, Royal Northern Sinfonia / Dionysis Grammenos (conductor). Nevill Holt, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, 23.6.2023. (CP)

Nevill Holt Opera’s La Cenerentola © Genevieve Girling

Director – Owen Horsley
Designer – Simon Wells
Lighting designer – Kevin Treacy
Movement director – Daniel Hay-Gordon

Angelina – Grace Durham
Don Ramiro – Aaron-Godfrey-Mayes
Dandini – Malachy Frame
Don Magnifico – Grant Doyle
Alidoro – Trevor Eliot Bowes
Clorinda – Lorena Paz Nieto
Tisbe – Nancy Holt
Chorus – Thomas Chenhall, Geoff Clapham, Matthew Curtis, William Kyle, Cameron Mitchell, Fraser Robinson

What a joy to hear Royal Northern Sinfonia live in the Midlands, giving Nevill Holt Opera a deserved boost to a year with its ups and downs, including the loss of their well-regarded Nicholas Chalmers after a ten-year tenure as Artistic Director. Some five years ago Bampton Opera delivered a delightful production of Nicoló Isouard’s Cendrillon, the 1810 composition on which Rossini based his megahit La Cenerentola, proving Isouard’s composition deserves more performances than it gets. Challenging Jacopo Ferretti to write the libretto stretched his relationship with Rossini, as the composer was keen to finish the work in just three weeks. Nevill Holt Opera’s packed first night had the benefit of the Royal Northern Sinfonia to help them through this challenging new production, designed, thanks to the generous support of a La Cenerentola syndicate. With conductor Dionysis Grammenos at its helm in his first Nevill Holt venture, this versatile and very responsive Royal Northern Sinfonia coped admirably with some of the extraordinary happenings on stage – despite players having little chance to see the visual effects. Act II’s orchestral storm and the rondo finale in which Angelina (Cinderella) is finally allowed to show some full coloratura fireworks brought out the very best from this chamber group.

Nevill Holt Opera’s La Cenerentola © Genevieve Girling

Simon Wells was given licence to design an extremely colourful and flexible set, capable of quick scene changes from the Prince’s palace to the kitchen of Baron Don Magnifico and back again and back again! With director Owen Horsley’s agreement, no doubt, Wells oversaw the creation of colourful and most extravagant costumes and wigs. Indeed, most characters appear to be wearing some form of wig, including the six 1960s Beatle look-a-like valets, in effect, the chorus, who, for the most part, work in an irritating unison whilst moving waste bins and scenery, except when dancing in pairs. Lighting designer Kevin Treacy gives those sets masses of brilliant light with the hair-raising thunderstorm in the second act quite an accomplishment.

Above the pit and away from the lighting box, Angelina (Grace Durham) takes another leading role in a kitchen; she enjoyed a successful duo in the kitchen with John Findon at Garsington’s Rusalka last year. This year Angelina is depressed in her kitchen, as she is humiliated by her greedy stepfather and difficult stepsisters. Ultimately, she proves the depth of her goodness by forgiving them and repaying their wickedness with kindness. Durham’s lush mezzo-soprano voice holds up well as she sings with a friendliness and sense of self-worth. Her humiliating father, Don Magnifico (Grant Doyle), spotted last year at Nevill Holt as Dr Bartolo in Barber of Seville, is a strong performer, a good communicator with solid delivery and very capable in moments of bewilderment when Dandini (Malachy Frame) reveals he is a servant and not the prince and hoped-for husband to one of those terrible sisters, Clarinda (Lorena Paz Nieto) and Tisbe (Nancy Holt). Oh, how Lorena must loathe those wigs imposed on everyone, as she lost hers in Act II. Head of Wigs, Hair and Makeup, Ian Massa-Harris, needs to ensure a better fix! Both sisters deliver the required irritating stereotypes, alert, never missing an opportunity to be unkind or to seek attention.

With the music remaining the constant strength of the performance, Dandini has fun when dressed as the prince and Don Ramiro, the real prince (Aaron Godfrey-Mayes) – with the most ill-fitting of wigs – has a pleasing tenor voice which will develop greater projection as he matures. Quite what role Alidoro (Trevor Eliot Bowes) is playing remains something of a mystery. As the former tutor, sometime philosopher, he floats in, advising on the location of the third sister and then floats out.

What luck for Nevill Holt Opera to secure the services of the Royal Northern Sinfonia for this season. With Kyra Humphreys leading, supported by strong brass playing from Peter Francomb (horn), Adam Wood and Marion Craig (trumpet), this ensemble was the worthy star of the evening.

Clive Peacock

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