Glyndebourne on Tour, Theatre Royal, Plymouth: 23 November 2005
Sir Peter Hall's summer production at Glyndebourne, his first of Rossini, is presented by the touring company, directed by Lynne Hockney.
At a time of year when the traditional seasonal pantomime is wheeled out in repertory, with Fairy Godmother, pumpkins turned into coaches and 'B' team soap stars, Rossini's version of the story of Cinderella is stripped of the magical fantasy and is subtitled Goodness triumphant.
Written in four weeks prior to its first performance in January 1817 and just two years following the final departure of Napoleon from Europe, it is firmly set in a period of post-Revolutionary restoration, a satirical social comedy where love and goodness conquer feudal class distinctions. Rossini had a keen awareness of the cultural shifts that would eventually destroy a decaying aristocratic order.
Edward Gardner in his second year as Musical Director conducting the Glyndebourne on Tour Orchestra caught the sparkle and anticipation of the score unerringly from the outset of the overture, spurring on the articulated ensemble pieces, fizzing high-speed arias and farcical situations and drawing the very best from an excellent orchestra and supporting chorus.
Christine Rice's Angelina showed assurance and solid technique gliding up from creamy chest voice to a glistening upper extension of coloratura. She portrayed not simply an oppressed and humiliated scullery maid but a thoughtful young woman troubled by the cruel disdain her stepfather and arrogant stepsisters feel for the poor, but who sees and seizes her chance to liberate herself from the past.
Henry Waddington as Don Magnifico brought the right level of comic strut and bustle to Angelina's scheming stepfather. A boozy Falstaffian pantaloon, facing financial ruin, eager to marry of one of his empty headed daughters to a rich prince, dreaming about his prerogatives as a royal in-law and master of the prince's wine cellar. Scruffily hilarious, he applied all the comic tricks of the trade and delivered his buffo patter arias with skill.
One of the fine performances of the evening was Andrew Foster-William's Alidoro, standing in for the Fairy Godmother as the prince's tutor, a detached and mysterious string-pulling character, singing with rich authority and style. To the role of the Prince, Don Ramiro, Matthew Beale brought a light and agile voice, effective enough to hit the high notes on pitch, but sometimes too overstretched to project through in the ensemble numbers although he nevertheless delivered on drama.
As his valet, Dandini, Giorgio Caoduro and manipulated and duped with articulate and accomplished singing, and the byplay between them in the duet Zitto zitto, piano, piano was genuinely amusing.
Claire Ormshaw's Clorinda and Louise Armit's Tisbe, both far-from ugly sisters, preened and prattled deftly without slipping into cartoon overstatement.
Designer Hildegard Bechtler provided neo-classical sets in muted colour backdropping sumptuous period Napoleonic costume and the Act One finale was particularly well done - a crescendo from the orchestra depicted an earthquake engulfing the cast, flashing lights brought the soloists falling on the ground and crawling forward towards the chasm of the orchestra pit.
Hall's directorial trademarks were also evident in the Act Two sextet with the soloists moving e round the darkened set echoing the general confusion of identities, tangling themselves and each other up in a complicated pavanne reminiscent of Poussin's Dance to the Music of Time.
This was a delightfully-staged production of one of the most charming and ebullient comic operas and showcased Glyndebourne on Tour at its very best.