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Thursday, 7 March 2013

Rossini's "La Cenerentola" in Paris - is it second helpings or leftovers?

If you like your opera served up in easy to digest portions, then you probably can't beat Gioachino Rossini.

Arguably his best known works are "Il barbiere di Siviglia" and  "La Cenerentola", both of which have become staples at opera houses around the world.

And right now in Paris it's "La Cenerentola" which is back for the second time this season at the Palais Garnier.

A different line up from the first "helping" at the end of last year (all right enough already of the food references) but well worth seeing if only for the undeniable architectural opulence of the Palais Garnier and that wonderful Marc Chagall painted ceiling.

Palais Garnier, Marc Chagall painted ceiling

Oops. This review is supposed to be of the opera, not the setting.

But it's difficult not be impressed by the Palais Garnier, especially when the performance you're watching and listening to doesn't live up to your expectations.

And so it was with "La Cenerentola", which is a shame really as from the opening chords of the overture you know you're going to be in for something special as the music is a "light and energetic" prelude to what is to follow.

As with much opera, the plot of La Cenerentola" (libretto Jacopo Ferretti) is pretty pants.

It's Rossini's Cinderella without the "supernatural" flavour of Charles Perrault's original "Cendrillon" (no Fairy Godmothers or glass slippers) but retaining the moralising of good triumphing over evil.

The Orchestre de l’Opera National de Paris, under conductor Riccardo Frizza, took some stick earlier on in the season but quite frankly was more than up to the job.

The underperformers were rather the singers.

The great overacting (yes, opera singers can now act in spite of clichés that might abound, and besides it rather a prerequisite for a successful Rossini performance) was as hammed-up as warranted but it was accompanied by some - at times - disappointing singing.

The chorus was wonderful and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's production - even though it's more than 40 years old - has stood the test of time.

But both lead voices, Italian tenor Antonino Siragusa as Don Ramiro and Italian mezzo soprano Serena Malfi as Angelina, were sometimes lost and submerged by the orchestra.

And they couldn't always manage the elaborate nature of the coloratura without resorting to belting out the high notes at unnecessarily full volume.

They were good but not exceptional.

Missing was the subtlety of a truly great performance such as the one Cecilia Bartoli gave in the role of Angelina at New York's Metropolitan opera in 1997.

Ah. Memories!

Still, the setting is magnificent (if you don't know the Palais Garnier, try doing an Internet image search - it's well worth it) and "La Cenerentola" remains a real delight and continues its run at the Palais Garnier until the end of March.

Palais Garnier (from Wikipedia)

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