Thursday, May 16, 2019

Gioachino Rossini, La Cenerentola (1817)


Yup, I was right.

This has some interesting divergences from what I think of as the "original" Cinderella story (though that word probably doesn't mean much applied to a folktale). The most immediately obvious difference is that there's a stepfather (Don Magnifico) rather than mother (Cinderella's own mother having died). Apparently--shocking!--he squandered her inheritance on his own less-appealing spawn. Then there's the fact that there's no Faerie Godmother--instead there is, somewhat murkily, a "philosopher" who basically plays that role. How does he get La Cenerentola (here named Angelina) all dolled up for the ball? Not apparent. A bit of magical realism, we can perhaps say. Instead of anything to do with shoes, she gives the Prince one of a pair of bracelets and tells him that if he can find her again and thus match the two of them up, they can get married. Also--last important thing--a big part of the plot involves the Prince having switched places with his valet Dandini in order to observe in secrecy.

Having watched this back-to-back with the Massenet, the reasons that this succeeds while that one doesn't really stand out. First and foremost, the romance is a lot more satisfying. Also, Angelina's just a much better version of the character than Lucette, who came, I would say, dangerously close to only being "good" by virtue of being put upon rather than by anything she actually does. The comedy works better, as does the drama, the music--or so I thought--is much more infectious...damn. The bits you should listen to to get an idea are "Sia qualunque delle figlie," Magnifico's aria at the beginning of Act II where he fantasizes about what his life will be like when he's the father of a queen, and "Si, ritrovarla io guiro," the Prince's impassioned aria about his determination to find this mysterious woman. In this production there's so much applause afterwards that Juan Diego Flórez has to come back on stage to acknowledge it (well, whether he "has" to or not, he does, is the point).

I chose this one because I thought it would be interesting to see Joyce DiDonato playing the same role, give or take, and indeed. I like her better here just because the whole thing is better, and she is thus elevated. I hadn't seen Diego Flórez in quite some time, but he's a terrific prince, and then you have Alessandro Corbelli as Magnifico...crikey! The production is traditional with some good comic touches. It gets a lot of mileage out of a three-legged sofa.

Interesting thing about Rossini is that while he lived to the age of seventy-six, he wrote forty-ish operas between the ages of eighteen and thirty-seven and then, for reasons that are still debated, just...stopped. I guess when you're this successful, you can, at any rate, afford to do that. At any rate, it's obvious why this one would be a crowd-pleaser. What's not to like? I foresee a lot more Rossini in my future.

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