Opera + Classical Music Reviews

La Cenerentola review – Rossini goes with a swing at Nevill Holt Opera

22, 24, 25, 27, 28 June 2023

Setting the action in the ’60s pays dividends.

La Cenerentola

La Cenerentola (Photo: Genevieve Girling)

Many directors today choose to set operas in the 1960s, and the reasons why are not hard to find. The period is still recent enough to retain an air of familiarity, but also sufficiently long ago to maintain many of the traditional values and hierarchies on which the works originally played. In the case of Owen Horsley’s new production of La Cenerentola for Nevill Holt Opera, it also helps the evening to go with a swing as the choice of decade aids the dynamism to a considerable degree. 

This point is no better illustrated than in the way in which the chorus is utilised. It is only six strong, but the men who comprise it produce a highly accomplished sound, while their costumes bridge the gap between the positions they hold in the story and the era in which they operate. Although they are predominantly dressed as courtiers, the addition of moptop haircuts and drainpipe trousers make them feel like Freddie and the Dreamers or The Beatles in their early years. Their frequent dancing, courtesy of movement director Daniel Hay-Gordon, consequently brings an element of neatness and class to the proceedings, while also possessing a sufficient amount of energy and panache. As one might expect, they make a major contribution to Don Magnifico’s hilarious ‘Intendente, reggitor’, but are seen in action throughout the evening so that during the Overture they execute a routine that reveals Don Ramiro and Dandini’s decision to swap places. 

Simon Wells’ gorgeous set reveals a pink house that usually, although not always, presents Ramiro’s country house when we see it from the outside, and Don Magnifico’s abode when it is turned around to offer up an interior. The latter reveals wallpaper from the era, a telephone and a portrait of Don Magnifico, presumably painted when he enjoyed better times financially. The landscape that forms a backdrop to the stage is beautifully rendered in purples, blues, greens and whites, and actually brings to mind the late works of German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Tiny houses dotted around it provide an impression of the wider community, and when they twinkle as the lights inside them go on it feels quite magical. As everyone sits down for their meal at the end of Act I, the outdoor setting that is portrayed makes it feel as if they are doing so at a summer opera festival. In fact, although there are no mountains near Nevill Holt, the landscape seen behind them could broadly represent the view over the Welland Valley that can be enjoyed from the venue.

“…the addition of moptop haircuts and drainpipe trousers make them feel like Freddie and the Dreamers or The Beatles…”

La Cenerentola

La Cenerentola (Photo: Genevieve Girling)

Although the chorus certainly bring much vibrancy to the evening, scenes involving just the principals have no less verve. One of the undoubted highlights in this respect is ‘Un segreto d’importanza’ between Malachy Frame’s Dandini and Grant Doyle’s Don Magnifico. Frame asserts his baritone to excellent effect, while Doyle is simply the class act of the evening. His own baritone is immensely rich and secure, and he captures the humorous and sinister aspects of the character in equal measure. When he claims his third daughter has died, it is amusing to see him clutch a vase on the mantelpiece as he pretends it is an urn containing her ashes. At the same time, when he rips a page from Alidoro’s book that refers to this child and throws it in the fire, it is a sign to Angelina that she really is worth more to him dead than alive.

For all of the fun inherent in the production, however, there is also an appropriate element of restraint. Lorena Paz Nieto’s Clorinda and Nancy Holt’s Tisbe go to town sufficiently on portraying the selfish nature of the sisters, without presenting hideous caricatures that would simply be too much in Rossini’s telling of the story. Aaron Godfrey-Mayes also gives a superb performance as Don Ramiro, asserting his pleasing and expansive tenor to good effect, while Grace Durham brings real heart to the role of Angelina as she reveals a highly distinguished and moving mezzo-soprano. 

There is splendid playing from the Royal Northern Sinfonia, under the baton of Dionysis Grammenos on his NHO debut, while Trevor Eliot Bowes, with his beguiling bass, only has to enter to give the character of Alidoro an otherworldly feel. Rossini’s version of the Cinderella story is famed for not indulging in the magical and mystical elements of the fairytale, but so effective is Bowes’ portrayal that he automatically puts the character on a higher plane. Nevertheless, although his coat disappears up the chimney and hat pops out from a cupboard when he discards his beggar’s disguise, the real secret to Bowes’ success is that he transports us to another place while still ultimately ‘keeping it real’. The same might be said of the production as a whole.   

• After La Cenerentola finishes its run at Nevill Holt Opera on 28 July, there will be one further performance at 15.00 on 2 July at SAGE Gateshead.

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La Cenerentola review – Rossini goes with a swing at Nevill Holt Opera