When Stendhal heard La Cenerentola a few years after its 1817 premiere he branded it trivial and vulgar. Post-French Revolution, Rossini’s noisy servants and happy deflation of aristocratic vanity felt disturbing – and, even more so, his rationalist transformation of Angelina/Cinderella from skivvy to princess; it’s a human philosopher, Alidoro, not a fairy godmother, who metes out social justice.
Yet Rossini hardly overthrows the monarchy, and his comic drama – in outcome at least – remains fairytale. The Catalan director and designer team of Joan Font and Joan Guillen wave their own magic wand, creating a cogent, Alice in Wonderland world rooted in commedia dell’arte and glam-punk, neo-classical cartoon.
First staged at Welsh National Opera in 2007, Xevi Dorca’s colourful revival admirably blends wit and warmth, helped by a cast and men’s chorus who relish without hamming its many details of gesture and expression; an approach – after a sluggish start – matched by Tomas Hanus and his refined Welsh National Opera orchestra.
The singers excel, the ugly trio of Clorinda (Aoife Miskelly), Tisbe (Heather Lowe) and father Magnifico (Fabio Capitanucci) oozing vileness in garish consort. Matteo Macchioni’s Ramiro is charming, though Giorgio Caoduro’s excellent Dandini threatens to upstage him in more ways than one, effortlessly commanding the charade-within-a-charade. Alidoro (Wojtek Gierlach) is occasionally more ponderous than pondering but assists with dignity.
Flanked by dancing mice and far from meekly passive, Tara Erraught’s Angelina proves a spirited heroine; down to earth and beautifully clear and agile of voice. In an age when stories of girls needing rescue by princes are rightly subject to challenge, she brings healthy glimmers of female agency to a largely gender-stereotyped role.