A vocally superior Cenerentola could not be imagined than the one presented by The Metropolitan Opera on HD. The young Rossini (age 25) followed the success of Il Barbiere di Siviglia with this sprightly melodic work which reminds one of....guess what?...the aforementioned. Gorgeous melodies tumble out one after another with all the excitement of youth and success. The madcap ensembles for which Rossini is famous bring several scenes to a close. Rapid-fire patter songs are given to the basses. We are meant to be smiling throughout and smile we did, with the exception of a couple of longueurs which can be attributed to the libretto of Jacopo Ferretti, loosely based on the fairy tale. Gone are the fairy godmother, the pumpkin, the shoe and the wicked stepmother. Instead we have the kind-hearted Alidoro who doubles as her guardian angel and a beggar who tests the heroine's generosity.
Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca is a spunky Cinderella who enjoys tormenting her nasty vain stepsisters (Rachelle Durkin as Clorinda and Patricia Risley as Tisbe) by singing the lament "Una volta c'e un re" over and over again as the opera opens. She closes the opera with the well-known and cheerful "Non piu mesta". Between those two show stoppers this beautiful singer invests every phrase with meaning and full round sound. The fioritura tickles the ear. American tenor Lawrence Brownlee makes some thrilling sounds as Don Ramiro, the prince; every note in his runs evinces pinpoint accuracy. But is he princely? Well, no! It certainly doesn't help that he is a head shorter than his Cinderella, nor is he assisted by good acting. His facial expressions range from anxious to angry to pained. Whereas Ms. Garanca convinces us that she falls in love with the little prince on first sight, even though he is masquerading as his valet Dandini, Mr. Brownlee shows no such chemistry toward her, fetching as she is. There is no law that says a prince should be taller than his beloved, or even of the same racial background; still, one expects the prince to be, well, charming is the word we use. As in Prince Charming. Mr. B. came across as more relaxed in his duet with his valet.
Vocal honors are also awarded for the Don Magnifico of Alessandro Corbelli who portrays the nasty greedy stepfather who disparages Cinderella at every turn and makes us laugh at the same time. Likewise, the Dandini of Simone Alberghini is hilarious. Both men are called upon to overplay a bit. John Relyea is excellent as Alidoro in all three incarnations. The physical comedy is also a bit overdone with the two disdainful and competitive stepsisters; their voices were perfect for the roles.
The 1997 production of Cesare Lievi takes the tone of a cartoon and it does wear thin. Maurizio Balo did the sets, also cartoonish, and the costumes, strangely updated to the Erte period. The excellent Met choristers wear bowler hats and look like something out of a Magritte painting. None of these directorial conceits matter very much since we are watching a comedy. But they seem tired and tedious.
Maurizio Benini led a brisk reading of the score, which is both frivolous and incredibly artistic. Gary Halvorson directed the HD and at times we thought he chose his camera angles to minimize the height disparity between Brownlee and Garanca.
He did not succeed. There are many opera lovers who are able to close their eyes to visual shortcomings (OUCH) but we are not amongst them.
(c) meche kroop