Had Rossini not composed Le Cenerentola in 1817, it’s possible that the most famous operatic version of Perrault’s fairytale Cendrillon would be the one composed seven years earlier by French-Maltese composer Nicolo Isouard. But the overwhelming success of Rossini’s opera, more in tune with the bel canto style of the era, caused Isouard’s once-popular opera to fade from memory until recently.
The modern revival of Isouard’s tuneful little charmer was kick-started in 1998 with a recording by Richard Bonynge. Thanks to Bampton Classical Opera, which has been presenting neglected and unknown operatic repertoire for 25 years, the opera is enjoying what is probably its UK premiere. Sung in English, with translations by company artistic directors Gilly French and Jeremy Gray, Cinderella rarely sets a slipper wrong.
It is of course a slipper – a green one – that finally unites Prince Ramir (Bradley Smith) and Cinderella (Kate Howden, with a supple mezzo-soprano). The happy ending does not come before some travail, however. Cinderella is tormented by her Vogue-reading step-sisters, the scene-stealing Clorinde (the elastic-voiced Aoife O’Sullivan) and Tisbe (the hilarious Jenny Stafford).
There’s contrasting gravitas from Bampton regular Nicholas Merryweather, who possesses a warm, reliable baritone, as Alidor, the prince’s advisor and Cinderella’s fairy godfather.
On opening night, despite a downpour that necessitated a move from the uncovered outdoor stage to nearby St Mary’s Bampton, the cast stuck closely to Jeremy Gray’s purposeful stage direction. Plaudits also to the cast for an ambitious bolero, choreographed by Alicia Frost and danced nimbly in the crowded space at the front of church.
The rain did not dampen the spirits of the audience, however, and, as Gray said once audience, cast and orchestra had shifted to the church, the rain had inspired him to find a new word to rhyme with “Cinderella”: “umbrella”.