Opera + Classical Music Reviews

La Cenerentola @ The Grange Festival, Northington

30 June 2021

The Grange Festival gives us another hit with La Cenerentola.

La Cenerentola

Nico Darmanin (Photo: Simon Annand)

Stendhal’s phrase “folie organisée” (organised madness) applies particularly to such ensembles as the sextet in Act II of La Cenerentola, but it’s also an apt description for the style of Stephen Barlow’s witty, colourfully designed (Andrew D. Edwards) and superbly sung production. The Grange Festival has made a habit of really using the stage in its intimate opera house, so that instead of forcing the singers to cram onto a narrow strip, making them look as though they are semaphoring, here they are enabled to give full rein to Rossini’s complex music and broad characterization.

Heather Lowe’s Cenerentola was a more than usually pensive heroine, so that her closing aria at her moment of forgiveness seemed especially apt; the nobility of her character was equalled by the pathos and accuracy of her singing, and she was ideally partnered by the genuine Rossini tenor of Nico Darmanin, for whom those spectacular high phrases held no terrors.

The supporting cast was equally strong; it will come as no surprise that the Dandini, Christian Senn’s cultivated, supple baritone can be heard in most of the noted European houses, and Roberto Lorenzi’s Alidori was a noble, steady presence. Simone Alberghini brought years of experience as a Rossini specialist to the role of Don Magnifico, and he fulfilled all the requirements of the basso buffo without resorting to caricature. Carolina Lippo’s Clorinda and Maria Ostroukhova were luxury casting, both singing with lustrous tone and each hilariously differentiated both by costume and attitude.

“The Grange Festival has made a habit of really using the stage in its intimate opera house…”

La Cenerentola

Heather Lowe (Photo: Simon Annand)

The Grange Festival Chorus in the persons of the group of Courtiers, had been trained to perfection by Matthew Morley, and their dapper top hat, tails and cane routine was a highlight, in support of Nico Darmanin’s glitzy crooner. The spectacular set for that scene, with its vertiginous staircase and bright colours, was an ideal backdrop for Heather Douglas’ snappy dance routine, part Hollywood musical and just a touch of the send-up introduction to Family Guy. Great fun.

Eschewing all the more typical golden glitter, the sets were nevertheless not short on style, with the intimate ‘cocktail bar’ scenes contrasting vividly with the grand set pieces of the Ball and the Wedding. The heroine’s appearance at the ball sees her made up to look like a combination of young versions of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Grace Kelly, instead of the more usual wearer of a fabric meringue. In another delightful touch, after Cenerentola’s forgiveness of her stepsisters, Clorinda gives her a new copy of the book which she had snatched away and burnt. Such details do not make a production, but they are integral to the imagination of the whole.

Keeping everything together from the pit, David Parry managed to make the performance seem as though it had been graced with the full Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra instead of a recording, and it was surprising how little the lack of a fully inhabited pit seemed to matter. We will be very glad to see the players when they return, but until then this Festival has staged memorable performances in the most trying of circumstances; as the festival’s director Michael Chance pointed out, some of those on stage had had to overcome many difficulties just to get to the UK, and that they managed to produce this joyful, entertaining show is a tribute to their talents and determination.

Further details of this production can be found here.

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