WASHINGTON, May 13, 2012 – The New York Metropolitan Opera’s HD simulcast presentation series wrapped up its 2013-2014 season this Saturday past with a funny, brilliantly sung and surprisingly moving performance of Rossini’s popular 1817 comic opera, “La Cenerentola” (“Cinderella”).
Starring soprano Joyce DiDonato—who announced this would be her final appearance in this, one of her signature roles—Saturday’s HD broadcast was further enhanced by the stunning performance of tenor Juan Diego Flórez as Cinderella’s Prince Charming.
Rossini’s musical take on this well-known rags-to-riches fairy tale differs a bit from the more familiar, Disney-fied version in that Cinderella’s evil stepmother is swapped out for an evil step-dad, aptly named “Don Magnifico” for his high-aristocratic pretensions.
As the opera opens, we glimpse Cinderella in her dull, scruffy maid’s costume, waiting hand and foot on her two ditzy but nasty stepsisters (Rachelle Durkin and Patricia Risley). We soon discover that our heroine’s stepfather has conveniently spent all her inheritance on whatever such wastrels spend such things on, leaving the family manse a mess and Magnifico (Alessandro Corbelli) in need of a cash infusion. Fast.
Which is why he and Cinderella’s stepsisters are thrilled to discover that their local resident Prince (Juan Diego Flórez) will be throwing a party and a ball to check out the eligible females in the area in order to find a wife. And, not coincidentally, shore up his claim to his own royal inheritance—something that Magnifico is clearly eager to tap, using his two natural daughters as prince-bait.
You know the rest, save for a pair of additional twists just to make things interesting. The prince’s tutor, Alidoro (Luca Pisaroni), scopes out the scene in advance to determine a course of action, pinch-hitting a bit later on as Cinderella’s fairy godfather as well.
And the prince himself complicates things by masquerading as his own servant, swapping places with his amusing valet, Dandini (Pietro Spagnoli), who impersonates His Highness a bit too enthusiastically at times.
Dating from 1997, the production itself was visually a bit dull, although there was a method to the madness. The moment the curtain rises, we see that Don Magnifico’s house has clearly seen better days. The drab, blue walls are cracked and peeling, evidence of Magnifico’s dwindling and largely squandered budget. Fair enough. But it’s still a little depressing for a sprightly comedy like this one.
Fortunately, the late 19th-early 20th century costuming—particularly the wicked sisters’ outrageously colorful gowns and hats—serves to brighten things up a bit. And the René Magritte-like touches—floating background clocks and the chorus uniformly attired in natty formal wear and bowlers—adds a whimsical element to the action on stage.
But, of course, in the end we attend the opera for the singing, and in this production, it couldn’t have been better.
The star of the show, of course, was Ms. DiDonato, whose Angelina (Rossini’s name for Cinderella) is a Rosetta Stone for any up-and-coming soprano who aspires to sing this role.
If indeed Ms. DiDonato is done singing this role forever—as she stated in the intermission feature in this broadcast—we’re fortunate to have seen and heard her this one last time. Intelligent and attractive, she’s a brilliant coloratura soprano as well as an accomplished actress, and in this performance the audience was drawn in to the genuine warmth of her character. Hers was a winning performance all around, an unalloyed joy to experience.
It didn’t hurt, either, that Cinderella’s Prince was song by the equally brilliant tenor Juan Diego Flórez. Mr. Flórez missed the first few performances of this opera’s run due to illness. But fortunately for us, that was clearly a thing of the past in this HD performance.
Mr. Flórez’ youthful, silvery, yet extraordinarily powerful voice provided his character at once with both authority and exuberance. His phrasing and diction were precise and impeccable, his ornamentation was superb, his top notes were spot on, and he held a few of them for nearly an eternity, thrilling an audience already entranced with Ms. DiDonato’s efforts.
The supporting cast members were almost uniformly superb, serving to make this well-worn fairy tale more contemporary and believable while providing many fine musical moments themselves.
Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni was outstanding as the Prince’s protean tutor and confidante Alidoro. Whether in his initial appearance as a rather ominous-looking beggar who perhaps more closely resembled an aging Sith Lord, we also glimpse Alidoro as his proper, unobtrusive self as well as materializing at the darkest moment as Cinderella’s fairy godfather, clad in a nicely-fitted rescue-white suit and boasting a pair of natty gold angel wings.
Mr. Pisaroni gave all three of Alidoro’s emanations effective and distinctive characterizations while singing like a wise angel at the same time.
As the Prince’s valet-turned-Prince-for-a-Day, the aptly-named Dandini, baritone Pietro Spagnoli added a deft comic touch to his imposing instrument. You could almost believe he was the real Prince, which at times resulted in some funny interplay between his character and Mr. Flórez’ faux-valet.
Funnier yet were wicked step-sisters Clorinda and Tisbe (Ms. Durkin and Ms. Risley). These are comic roles par excellence, and the women hammed it up accordingly, adding awkward motion and rubbery faces to the mix just to make sure—but also delighting with their rich, accomplished voices whether in solo, duet or ensemble.
Veteran baritone Alessandro Corbelli, known as a specialist in both Mozart and Rossini, added an intriguingly dark touch to this production as evil step-dad Don Magnifico. The role is generally treated as a classic buffo part, which is really what it is, and Mr. Corbelli doesn’t forget this, singing his solo declamations with great heartiness, conviction and over-the-top physical comedy.
But in this production, Mr. Corbelli also displayed some real nastiness and a tendency toward violence in Magnifico’s treatment of Angelina, adding a touch of dread to the proceedings that serve to make Cinderella’s triumph and humanity all the more effective in the end.
Wrapping things up, the chorus was superb throughout, and genial Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi led the always-superb Met Orchestra in a sparkling performance of Rossini’s witty score.
Rating for “La Cenerentola”: **** (4 out of 4 stars)
Sorry you missed the performance? Not to worry. Saturday’s live performance will be rebroadcast at most area theaters that carried the original. The date: Wednesday, May 14 at 6:30 p.m. local time.
For details on Wednesday’s encore presentation and purchase tickets, link to the Met’s HD info pages here.
If you’ve never attended before and aren’t quite sure where your local simulcast is taking place, a list of participating U.S. and International theaters is available via the Met’s HD site at the link above.