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In Search of the Perfect Mousetrap: WNO's 'La Cenerentola'

La Cenerentola, Washington National Opera, 2015 (photo by Scott Suchman)

It turns out that Rossini's La Cenerentola is not a very good opera. It was moderately funny and cute the first time I saw it, but its charms have worn thinner with each subsequent viewing. Fortunately, it has come under review only twice before here -- from Wolf Trap in 2005 and from Opera Vivente in 2009 -- and the latest production, from Washington National Opera, did not change my mind at its opening on Saturday night in the Kennedy Center Opera House.

This was not for lack of beautiful singing, led by mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, whose Angelina was rapid-fire and laser-focused in runs, although her slightly nasal tone turned unpleasant as her breath support faded. The best buffo nonsense came from Italian bass-baritone Simone Alberghini's Dandini, who hammed up his delight in taking the role usually played by his master, the Prince, and lording it over everyone. Italian baritone Paolo Bordogna, in an uneven company debut as Angelina's abusive stepfather, went too far in his comic antics, not necessarily matched by vocal goods. Russian tenor Maxim Mironov had a more solid company debut as the actual Prince, Don Ramiro, with a rather light sound, even on the highest notes, matched by a sort of nondescript stage presence. Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists Jacqueline Echols and especially Deborah Nansteel, who was more present vocally, were moderately funny as the wicked stepsisters, while Shenyang's Alidoro was officious but robust.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, In Washington National Opera’s ‘Cinderella,’ parts are better than sum (Washington Post, May 11)

Terry Ponick, WNO’s ‘Cinderella’: A longish evening of colorful family fun (Communities Digital News, May 11)
Part of what made the experience so tedious was the heavy-handed staging by Spanish director Joan Font, with rather bland sets (Joan Guillén, who also designed the obnoxiously over-colored costumes) lit and otherwise tarted up with raucous colors (lighting designed by Albert Faura). A team of supernumerary mice was a constant, nagging distraction, and by the end of a long evening I would have stood and cheered if some large traps had put an end to their shenanigans on stage. (I much prefer my regular encounters with Nibbles, the real-life KC Mouse, on those occasional late nights filing the overnight review of the National Symphony Orchestra.)

The other thing that goaded my ear was the inability or unwillingness of conductor Speranza Scappucci to reign in the singers on the platform: in most pieces in fast tempos, all evening long, the singers ran away with the tempo and Scappucci let them go, forcing the orchestra to keep up with them. Scappucci also accompanied the recitatives, capably enough, from a harpsichord mounted on a gigantic stand in front of her, although a piano or even just the cello by itself was more likely what accompanied the recitatives in 1817 when the opera premiered (the autograph score has only a cello line, with no chords or figures).

This production runs through May 21, with next Saturday's performance (May 16, 7 pm) shown in simulcast at Nationals Park.


Jeffrey Smith said...

That production appears to be the one seen in the DVD with Flores and DiDonato (Warner/EMI). I thought it imaginative and fun.

Charles T. Downey said...

It would not have been so bad, except for the scene-stealing mice. This is why W.C. Fields advised never working with animals or children.