19 December 2011 | TheLittleSongbird
The best Cenerentola I've seen
As much as I loved the production with Cecilia Bartoli and Alessandro Corbelli and enjoyed the one with Ann Murray and Gino Quillico, I think this is the best Cenerentola I've seen, and in the top 5 of my favourite Jean-Pierre Ponnelle films alongside Rigoletto, Le Nozze Di Figaro, Der Barbier Von Sevilla and La Clemenza Di Tito.
La Cenerentola is opera magic. When I first saw it, I admittedly found the story confusing, but the more productions I've seen of it the more I have grown to appreciate the opera's wit, charm and fun. When done right, it is often hilarious, with Dandini and Don Magnifico getting the lion's share of the best moments, and Rossini's music as always sparkles.
I have often said that Ponnelle's opera films are visually stunning. Before I saw La Cenerentola, I perceived his most visually stunning film to be between Rigoletto, Madama Butterfly and La Clemenza Di Tito. They still do, but now after seeing this Cenerentola this gets my vote now as his most beautiful film visually, with very elegant settings and sumptuous costuming. The camera work is also wonderful as well as the sound.
The staging engages throughout, either being very funny or very beautiful. The most effective in my opinion was that of the Act II sextet, with the scene shot entirely in silhouette with each singer's movements resembling that of the motions of a big Bavarian Cuckoo clock. Another remarkable asset of this scene was the singers' abilities to create something larger making their individualities more effective.
Musically, the orchestra have lots of style and beauty in their playing. Claudio Abbado's conducting is wonderfully buoyant, very breakneck speed at times, while still maintaining the spirit of Rossini.
I cannot begin to describe or even to start how amazing Frederica Von Stade is as La Cenerentola. What was it that I loved most about her performance? How beautiful she was? The vibrant, warm tone of her singing? Her subtle acting and facial expressions, especially her look when she discovers her love in the Prince's Valet and her smile as she relives the ball stroking her bracelet? Her crystalline diction in her patter commentary? Her ability to nail the melancholic side of Cenerentola's character? The answer is I cannot decide, so I'd say, all of it. Bartoli had a charming stage presence and a very smoky beautifully produced voice, and Murray's singing and acting were great, but to me Von Stade had the whole package.
Francissco Araiza is excellent as Ramiro. His voice has the right agility for Mozart and Rossini, and he uses it brilliantly without ever pushing. His acting deserves credit, I have known Araiza to be stiff before, but here he is very dashing and convincing, better I think than the later performance with Murray and Quillico and preferable to Matteuzzi. Paul Plishka sings the role of Alidoro as if it was made for him. His singing is robust and sonorous, doing justice to his very difficult aria(very high and florid even for a bass) and his acting is hearty, and looking at him in this film you would actually think it was Rossini himself come to life. I didn't get this much enjoyment from the other two Alidoros I've seen so far.
The step-sisters are sung by Margherita Guglielmi and Laura Zannanni, and their purposefully high singing(not the singing itself but the register it is composed in) is still appealing and contrasts very well with Cenerentola's lower and perhaps more mellow range, their stage presence is both fun and commanding, almost like a Lucy and Ethel act, and their chemistry is great together. I only have one criticism, and it is more a nit-pick really, but their constant squealing can get annoying after a while.
Aside from Von Stade, although the entire cast are wonderful with nobody I would describe as bad, the best of the cast were Paolo Montarsolo's Don Magnifico and Claudio Desderi's Dandini. I will say in regards to other performances of Don Magnifico I loved Enzo Dara and Walter Berry. Dara's interpretation was hilarious and he nails the fiendishly difficult pattering that is required of the role, and Berry's performance is equally virtuosic if a little more nastier than Dara's.
Montarsolo's Magnifico is not just nasty, but very funny- the scene with him at Ramiro's court is the film's comic highlight- as he can be a real buffoon here and there is even a sympathetic side at the end as he realises his downfall. His singing and diction are impeccable. Desderi did have stiff competition with the brilliant Quillico and very impressive Corbelli, however I think he outdoes them both. His Dandini is simply hilarious with his scenes with Montarsolo a comic joy, and of the three his is also the most vocally expressive and musical. He also literally spits out his diction in his patterings.
All in all, simply brilliant and the best Cenerentola. 10/10 Bethany Cox