Two operas in two nights; this could have been hard work. I’m not sure I would have been able to take the emotional intensity and beauty of another La Traviata, but Welsh National Opera have made the third production of their autumn season a much lighter experience.
La Cenerentola is Cinderella retold in a way that is familiar from pantomimes rather than the Disney version but still with its own little twists. Cenerentola (real name Angelina) is treated as dirt by the ugly sisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, and her father Magnifico. When a beggar arrives at the door Cenerentola feeds him, hiding it from the sisters who want to throw him out. He is actually Alidoro the Princes’s former tutor and a man of wisdom who lets the Prince know that there is a kind woman in the household. Prince Ramiro is on the hunt for a bride and so arrives dressed as his valet Dandini to check her out and they fall in love. However, when Dandini (pretending to be Prince Ramiro), Prince Ramiro (still pretending to be Dandini) and Alidoro come to the house to formally invite the family to the ball where the Prince will decide on a bride, Magnifico and the sisters deny all knowledge of Cenerentola, and tell them she is dead. Alidoro takes the role of a non-magical Godmother and secretly gets Cenerentola to the ball where the sisters and Magnfico are making magnificent fools of themselves and being rude to the man they think is just a servant. It all pans out as you’d expect – Magnifico and the sisters are devastated to find that Dandini has been having a great time leading them on, while the Prince they insulted as a valet has little time for them. Cenerentola left an item behind – one of a pair of bracelets – and the Prince has to search for her. It ends with a wedding and forgiveness (and a broken-hearted Dandini who also fell in love with her).
It’s a fantastic production. In contrast to last nights La Traviata which was beautiful in the simplicity and clarity of the singing, this gives the performers an incredible amount of vocal gymnastics – trilling, running up and down scales and other such things that I have just learnt is known as coloratura. There were also multiple sections with the six main performers each singing their own part with the words and notes wrapping around the others in a way that is just indescribable. Frequently this was at incredibly high speeds: I was stunned by the technical skills.
It’s also visually stunning: the Ugly Sisters are in neons with high wigs and heavily ornamented dresses, There are mice who appear in every scene, scratching and rolling around, watching everything, with long tails dragging behind them or being swung around. The Prince has a large entourage of guards wearing elaborate uniforms in shades of red, brown and mustard. There is a large mirrored screen with panels that twist.
It didn’t have the emotional hit of La Traviata but I didn’t really expect it too – this is a different creature. It made me smile, it made me laugh. I loved Giorgio Caoduro’s Dandini, he was arch and wicked and his pleasure at allowing Magnifico, Clorinda and Tisbe to make fools of themselves was wickedly charming. His duet with Don Magnifico (Fabio Capitanucci) in Act II was a favourite. Aiofe Miskelly and Heather Lowe as Clorinda and Tisbe were gloriously bitchy, with little shoulder tosses and shared glances. Tara Erraught’s Cenerentola was lovable and her voice sent shivers down my spine. The whole thing was a joy and a pleasure to see and hear.
Review by Ginny Gould