Small picture of Donizetti

 

 

 

Rossini's La Cenerentola

Metropolitan Opera House, New York, April 21 - May 10, 2014

Photographs by Ken Howard, courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera

 

This production was Joyce DiDonato's last appearance as Angelina/Cinderella as she has now retired the role. Charles Jernigan, a member of the Society, who saw the performance on April 28 and has provided the following report:-

If some musical alchemist could distill pure joy into music, the result would be a well sung performance of Rossini’s Cenerentola.  The story is a wonderful mix of satire and sentiment, and the buffa elements never let the story or the characters sink into sentimentality as the Disney version that most of us grew up with does.  The opera’s subtitle is La bontà in trionfo (The Triumph of Goodness) and it lives up to that implied optimism through the character of Angelina, Cinderella herself, a humble girl who forgives her wicked stepfather and the wicked stepsisters and wins a prince in the process.  The prince is good too, a man who wants to marry someone who wants him for love and not for money and status.  He sees through the fawning sycophancy of Don Magnifico and his daughters and chooses his ideal without much trouble.   For good measure, Rossini and his wonderful librettist Jacopo Ferretti give us an “angel” to make sure the proceedings go the right way.  His name is Alidoro, which means ‘Golden wings’, and in this Metropolitan Opera production, he gets, literally, wings of gold--an angel like Clarence in that other paean to optimistic hope  It’s a Wonderful Life.  

The most astonishing thing about the Met production is that the company didn’t get around to staging this most joyous of operas until 1997, for Cecilia Bartoli, and this is the production that we still have seventeen years later, with Joyce DiDonato taking the title role.  The production, by Cesare Lievi, is too fussy and filled with slapstick schtick, but overall it does the job and rarely gets in the way of the music.   An exception is taking Don Magnifico’s wild dream of a flying donkey literally in his aria “Miei rampolli feminili”  where we actually see the donkey flying through the air over a literal bell tower as he describes it.  And how many times can people falling off a three-legged couch that tilts get a laugh?  The sets and costumes by Maurizio Balò are uninteresting too, but they are not too unappealing to take away from the wittiness of the text and the energetic joy of the music.

It is doubtful that a better cast could be assembled today to sing Cenerentola.  Joyce DiDonato is on the top of every list as a great Rossini mezzo; old buffo pros Alessandro Corbelli (Don Magnifico) and Pietro Spagnoli (Dandini) were hilarious in the comic roles; Luca Pisaroni, a major singer today, sang the secondary role of Alidoro; and our Prince was supposed to be Juan Diego Florez, today’s preeminent Rossini tenor.  And thereby hangs a tale.

Shortly before the opening of the run, it was announced that Florez was indisposed in Vienna, and would miss the first three performances of the series.  Fortunately, Javier Camarena was available, having recently completed a series of performances as Elvino in La sonnambula at the Met.  He stepped into the role and brought down the house in the process.  The applause and shouting after his big aria in Act II (“Si, ritrovarla”) just went on and on.  So Peter Gelb, the Met’s General Manager, decided to sanction an encore should the same applause occur at the second performance.  (The Met has had a strong rule against encores since the 1920’s, and supposedly only three singers have been allowed encores at the Met since 1942-- Pavarotti in Tosca and Florez himself, in La fille du régiment and L’elisir d’amore).  At the second performance, the applause was once again deafening, and Camarena encored his cabaletta.  This time there was a genuine furor, and the event made a front-page story in The New York Times.  By the time of the third perfomance on April 28, which we saw, there was not a ticket to be had, and the audience went crazy.  After his aria, Camarena returned to the stage, knelt humbly towards the audience--and the chorus returned to the stage for the encore.  Whether this was a well-planned P.R. stunt or not, it worked.  The Met got a sold-out house, sadly a rarity these days.  And Florez must wonder if he was right to stay home in Vienna while someone else triumphed in his role.

The 38-year old Camarena, who is from Veracruz, Mexico, has a large voice, larger than that of Florez or most bel canto tenors.  It is a voice big enough to fill the huge Met easily, and yet he wields it with perfect finesse.  All of his trills are in place and all of his hemi-demi-semi quavers and thirty-second notes too.  And he can sing softly and caress a phrase like the very best Rossini tenors, in, for instance, the duet “Un soave non so che.”  And he can hold his own with the fast patter of the wonderful ensembles which, for me, are the heart and soul of Cenerentola.  In short, Mr. Camarena is a true find and if he is not quite as handsome as Mr. Florez, he will certainly rival the Peruvian in similar roles.  Florez is expected to sing the remaining performances, including the HD broadcast on May 10.  He will no doubt be wonderful (I will go to the movies to see him), but the excitement generated by the unexpected debut of Mr. Camarena in the role will be hard to beat.  His is the real “cinderfella” story of these performances.  

Joyce DiDonato was not such a surprise because Rossini lovers know what she is capable of, and she did not disappoint.  Angelina is appropriately a role which requires limited coloratura pyrotechnics until you get to the rondo finale which closes the opera.  The slow part of the aria (“Nacqui all’affanno”) was affecting, and the joyous cabaletta (“Non più mesta”) which declares “fini” to all that “affanno” was a cascade of perfect runs and high notes; her variations in the repeat were stupendous too: the Met used the Gossett/Zedda critical edition and Phillip Gossett was listed as “Stylistic Advisor,” so I guess he designed the roulades along with Ms. DiDonato.  What a beautiful woman!   What a consummate actress!  What a singer!

Alessandro Corbelli was just as nasty as he was funny, and Pietro Spagnoli almost stole the show as the Prince’s valet Dandini.  Even in the vast confines of the Met, their duet “Un segreto d’importanza” was hilarious, and Dandini’s “Come un’ape” was suave and unctuously comic.  Luca Pisaroni was a tall, handsome Alidoro, but somehow, vocally, he did not seem quite on the same level as the others this night.  Rachelle Durkin and Patricia Risley rounded out the ensemble as Clorinda and Tisbe, the nasty stepsisters.  They sometimes overplayed the slapstick, but it was probably the fault of the director and not their own.  Rossini’s comic music can take slapstick, but it is too elegant for vulgarity, a fact that directors often miss.  Fortunately, in the finale Ms. DiDonato descended from the top of the silly wedding cake that she and her Prince are put on (she is a vividly human character, not a cartoon) for her rondo.

Fabio Luisi conducted the Met orchestra and the male chorus with perfect brio and understanding of the style.  When this Cenerentola comes to an HD screen, run, don’t walk.

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Charles added the following footnote having seen Juan Diego Flórez  singing the role of Prince Ramiro in the Met Opera cinema broadcast of the opera on May 10.

Comparing Flórez with Camarena is difficult because of the different mediums (live in the house vs. transmission in the cinema), but I thoroughly enjoyed Flórez, just as I had enjoyed Camarena.  Flórez presents a more dashing figure, and he is absolutely at home in the role and the production.  He is very much at home in the fast coloratura and perhaps no one can beat him at that game.  While I do not think that Flórez fills the huge Met auditorium quite as well as Camarena, he  has that all important ping, which makes the voice sound ‘present’ even if it isn’t that big. Still, I would like to tie his hands and arms down sometimes--he just cannot get entirely away from the singer-semaphore arm and hand gestures even though he is anything but a stand-and-belt singer.  He has always seemed most at home in comedy to me--the Barber, Matilde di Shabran, Comte Ory, as well as this role.  He just looks like he is having the time of his life, and it is infectious.  I think we now have three great bel canto tenors around--Camarena, Flórez and Larry Brownlee, and all three sang in New York during the closing weeks of the Met season.  Were we lucky, or what?

 

The Team

 

Angelina: Joyce DiDonato

Don Ramiro: Javier Camarena / Juan Diego Flórez

Dandini: Pietro Spagnoli

Don Magnifico: Alessandro Corbelli

Alidoro: Luca Pisaroni

Clorinda: Rachelle Durkin

Tisbe: Patricia Risley

 

 

Conductor: Fabio Luisi

Production: Cesare Lievi

Set & Costume Designer: Maurizio Balò

Lighting Designer: Gigi Saccomandi

Choreographer: Daniela Schiavone

 

 

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Clorinda, Don Magnifico and  Tisbe

 

 

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Alidoro and Angelina

 

 

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Don Ramira ( Javier Camarena) and Angelina

 

 

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Don Magnifico and Dandini

 

 

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Angelina

 

 

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Dandini, Angelina, Clorinda and Tisbe

 

 

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Angelina

 

 

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Don Ramiro and Angelina