I’m used to seeing Christmas ballet and panto versions so I was really looking forward to this Rossini opera based on the Cinderella story. Word of warning – you won’t find the Disney or traditional panto story here, nor will you find any of the spectacular and sparkling special effects and costumes you may be used to. The set consists of six wooden box-like structures which move constantly across the stage serving as scene changers and through which the characters enter or exit. The costumes are a mix of eras and styles, from tracksuit to 50s prom dresses, a pink suit and the bizarre illuminated ruffs adorning the plain grey outfits of the chorus. All in all, with the dark backdrop, it made for a fairly gloomy start to what is a light comic opera.
Following the death of her mother, Cinders has become a downtrodden servant in the household of her stepfather Don Magnifico and her two stepsisters. Her dowry has been squandered by her stepfather and she has no wealth or fine clothes. What she does have is a good heart and it is this which ultimately triumphs. She offers hospitality to a beggar, who is in reality the tutor to Don Ramiro and he becomes the fairy godfather character who enables her to go to the ball and meet her prince. Although just to complicate matters further, Don Ramiro has changed places with his valet Dandino so that he can be sure his intended bride loves him for himself and not his wealth and power.
It struck me as very much an opera of two halves. The first half seemed overlong and, searching for words at the interval to best sum up my feelings, unfortunately the first to spring to mind are underwhelming and underpowered. There are some good comic touches, particularly from the two stepsisters Rebecca Bottone as Clorinda and Maire Flavin, and Victoria Yarovaya has a wonderful voice. However, the set design and the costuming were disappointing and the voices seemed to lack power and projection, particularly in the ensemble pieces. Things perked up in the shorter second half and, at last, it felt like the main players were able to display their individual and ensemble talents. It was also good to have a good sized chorus on stage as they seem to have been missing from a lot of SO’s productions recently.
Having never seen the opera before, I have nothing to compare this production with. It apparently only took Rossini three weeks to write it and he liberally used music from his previous operas.
One of the photographs in the programme was of the 1969 production with Ian Wallace as Don Magnifico. It looked like a lot of fun was being had on stage which sometimes seemed a bit lacking in this version.
And finally, at the end of the opera, we get some Cinderella magic as a sparkling image of a carriage appears to take the young lovers away and give us a warm glow and fairytale ending.