A couple of top-notch singers rescue Scottish Opera’s new production of La Cenerentola from the doldrums but sadly it is a production that lacks a sense of direction and purpose from the word go. Uncertainty in the pit and a very mixed bag of voices contribute to an evening that is neither a complete success nor a complete disaster.

Things got off to a very uncertain start with a very scrappy overture that suggested that the orchestra were under rehearsed and underprepared. Though tempi were rollicking along, there were no riches in the orchestral sound at all. Dynamically there wasn’t much on offer – the only real variation being between fairly loud and too loud.Untitled-1

Meanwhile, there were some interesting though curious things happening on the stage. Firstly we had snow falling at the back of the stage. Little scraps of paper were falling in the darkness and very dramatically lit. Then a series of wooden cabinets could be seen moving about the stage, which were to remain in view for the whole evening. Finally, La Cenerentola herself could be seen sleeping central stage. A curtain revealed a number of cast members who then crept about the stage amongst the cabinets. It turned out that most of them were the chorus, dressed in dark grey jumpsuits with large ruffs around their necks. Oh, and the ruffs were illuminated from within.

What was happening on stage was certainly striking but what did it mean and where were we? Having had the whole of the evening to think about this, I have to confess that I’m none the wiser. The best guess that I can make is that the opera was set in the mind of someone reading about postmodernity in the early 1980s. A bit of modern dress here and a medieval ruff around the neck there; a few visual references to carriages all over the place and beautifully lit fluttering snowflakes which were not referred to again. Sometimes the ruffs were lit up and sometimes they were not. It was all quite clever but it was no way to tell a story.

The large wooden cabinets were to remain on stage throughout the whole evening, from time to time, doing their little ballet. Most of the entrances and exits were through the cabinets, leading members of the cast to be seen bounding from the wings into the cabinets in order to appear. Again, one simply doesn’t know why.

However, this was an opera not a cabinet ballet, so we had better consider the singing. First up it is probably best to deal with the high points. This is simple – this opera is worth seeing in order to hear Victoria Yarovaya in the title role as Angelina and Richard Burkhard as Dandini. They are each in their way superb.

Ms Yarovaya had a lovely rich voice – that was clear from the outset but of course, Rossini makes his audience wait for the fireworks. Though she sang well all evening, this Cinderella saved the real sparks for the coloratura of the final aria “Non più mesta”. This was an astonishing virtuoso performance delivered full face to the audience with no pesky stage action to distract from what was going on.

Ms Yarovaya’s triumph came just after Rossini’s set piece sextet “Questo è un nodo avviluppato”. This itself was was also stunning – the singers managing to roll their Italian consonants in a completely grrripping fashion. Taken altogether, the finale was considerably more exciting than the rest of the evening, which, one supposes, is how it should always be.

Richard Burkhard’s Dandini, the valet, exuded confidence and it often felt as though he was taking command of the stage. His sexy swagger and knowing ways with the women were exciting in themselves but oh, his voice was a dream. Always cutting right through the chatter of the other voices and soaring above the over-eager orchestra, Burkhard could not only be heard but one wanted to hear him too. This was an outstandingly rich, would-you-like-cream-on-top-of-that-hot-chocolate of a voice. Like Ms Yarovaya, it is worth going to see this production just to hear him and to have the two of them in one show feels as though one has come up trumps twice.

The unfortunate consequence of these two great voices is that the ensemble was thrown a little out of kilter as the others were no match for them.

John Molloy as Alidoro was the best of the rest. His long tall frame and rather creepy presence brought something malevolent to the stage. Vocally he was self-assured and confident. Nico Darmanin as the prince, Don Ramiro had the confidence and the vocal dexterity he needed but not the power to reach over the top of the orchestra. The two frightful step-sisters Rebecca Bottone and Máire Flavin had a reasonable line in comedy pouts and faints but sometimes could not be heard. Ms Flavin had the clear edge here but the pair of them were drowned out too often. The same fate befell Umberto Chiummo who was a last minute substitute singing Don Magnifico. His voice was great when singing with the forte-piano continuo but I couldn’t really pass any judgement on his singing with the orchestra – too often I couldn’t really hear him.

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When the chorus were not bearing their strange cold light on the stage they were being given silly things to do by choreographer Pascaline Verrier who for some reason thought it would be a good idea to get the men to do camp little dances behind the other action for a cheap laugh. The men of the prince’s palace had glitter in their hair. No, I don’t know why either. Perhaps they had been having a girls’ night in, to prepare for the ball.

Particular mention must be made of Angelina’s outfits. The dress which she wore to the ball was by some distance the most unfortunate outfit I’ve seen on stage for a long time, looking as though a swan was auditioning for the role as the ugliest of ugly ducklings. She looked far more pretty back at home in her Cinders outfit.

Mixed bag … La Cenerentola – a co-production by Scottish Opera and Opéra National du Rhin.

And thereby hangs the central problem with this production. A lot of attention had been paid to details that didn’t matter whilst the basic story was ignored. Add to that a mismatched cast and you have a fairly patchy evening.

There were good bits, certainly, but this didn’t really hang together as a whole. Director Sandrine Anglade was making her Scottish Opera debut with this piece. Though she had thrown a lot of creativity to the exercise things simply didn’t hold together at all. At the end, we had the snow effect again that we had seen at the beginning. It was quite beautiful. However it had nothing whatsoever to do with the story at all.

See it to hear some cracking singing from a couple of great voices. During the silliest of the action, close your eyes.

Kelvin Holdsworth

3 stars

Photos: K K Dundas

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