A tattered curtain is drawn across the Glyndebourne stage. So much for the rags. But does Sir Peter Hall's new staging of Rossini's La Cenerentola also deliver riches at the start of this new season? Yes and no.
Music director Vladimir Jurowski kicks it off with a zinging account of the Overture - not the usual all-purpose romp through the various crescendos, but a deliciously nuanced comedy of point and counterpoint, the London Philharmonic woodwinds suitably giocoso. You don't need to speak Italian to know the meaning of the word. That's Rossini for you. And, throughout, Jurowski was wonderfully alive to the onomatopoeic character of the score.
The best that can be said of Hall's production is that he takes the piece seriously. He doesn't look for laughs that just aren't there; he doesn't dress it up (and nor does his designer Hildegard Bechtler) in misplaced frippery; he takes the text at its word and the word for its truth. This is always Hall's strength - truth and detail.
And there's plenty of both here. The work's dark social undertow regarding class and prejudice is brought tellingly to the surface. The character of the philosopher Alidoro - a commanding Nathan Berg - is literally given the moral authority of centre stage. He addresses us directly, as do all the characters. We are far from passive participants in this "pantomime". Then again, it could be argued that Hall and Bechtler so earnestly seek to avoid the "pantomimic" that their somewhat dowdy realism does, in the end, lack theatrical panache.
Yet I can honestly say that I have never seen the ensembles more cunningly staged to bring out their conniving character. Each of the characters has something to hide, some secret that only we, the audience, are party to, so in those "frozen" moments where their collective inner voices come breathlessly to the surface, Hall and his lighting designer Peter Mumford go all out for the surreal, with each of the characters striking attitudes in a kind of creepy slow-motion. There is an air of the madhouse about it. Moments of stupefaction - like the great ensemble in the final scene (Rossini's immaculate anarchy at its most dazzling) - are touched by the supernatural. You might say that this is Hall's concession to the absent fairy godmother. Simple but transforming.
To everyone's credit, Hall's cast look and behave like they really belong in this show. But I'm not sure the singing always stands up to scrutiny. The young Russian tenor Maxim Mironov has the puppy-dog looks and appropriate vocal equipment for Prince Ramiro, but on the finer points of the Italianate style he's more of a valet. His tendency to aspirate the runs denies us the elegance that signifies good musical breeding.
It is, of course, a supremely witty idea on Rossini's part to make Don Ramiro's valet a bass. Also, Simone Alberghini is Italian, which makes their role-reversal somewhat unbalanced. Alberghini comes on so strong in the style and charm departments that you almost don't notice his vocal shortcomings. You can believe Cenerentola's "ugly" sisters - the excellent Raquela Sheeran (Clorinda) and Lucia Cirillo (Tisbe) - would hang on his every falsehood.
Displacing a great deal of hot air at the heart of this production is the fabulously "authentic" Don Magnifico of Luciano Di Pasquale. Rarely has the word "magnifico" been more debased. You could almost smell this boorish, lustful oaf from the posh side of the footlights. His oral dexterity (in the matter of Rossini's patter) was scary, and his reaction to the arrival of Angelina (Cenerentola) at the ball was alone worth the price of a ticket.
And the lady herself? Ruxandra Donose is one of singers who has it all - looks, sound, technique - but still leaves you wanting more. In the fabulous roulades of her closing rondo you could hardly ask for more, but more is what you should get. In a word, temperament.
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