If you're looking for a CENERENTOLA with substance, this is it. Briefly, a list of what you will not see here: giant rats, giant wedding cakes, flying donkeys, angels, overdone slapstick, references to Rene Magritte, or any of the other "cute" gimmicks of other recent productions of this opera. What you will see: a handsome, historically appropriate staging which places the opera squarely where it belongs, in the age of Lord Byron and Jane Austen (like Austen's novels, the opera deals with social advancement through marriage). In the hands of director Peter Hall, the opera is not a fairy tale but a human drama. What he has created is a thoughtful, elegant production that is more than a little "English" in feel; even the English subtitles are literate.
That there are no verifiable "stars" in the cast is of no consequence; the musical values of this production couldn't be higher. Ruxandra Donose's Angelina is a woman of spunk and spirit, not at all meek or submissive. Her sad little song in the first scene seems like an attempt at one-upmanship towards her stepsisters; by opera's end, Donose is spouting her coloratura with total ease and no hint of the aspiration we sometimes hear in this sort of vocal writing. The plainness and modesty of Donose's bearing makes Angelina's transformation into a princess all the more wonderful to behold. Maxim Mironov, the Don Ramiro, is a true Rossini tenor - light, sweet, and agile, able to etch his coloratura with exactitude. His one weak point is a lack of authority or true anger in his denouncing of Angelina's family in the Second Act Sextet; Mironov is a boyish and not very imposing presence. Simone Alberghini, looking like a suitor in a Jane Austen novel, is so charming and debonair a Dandini that for once one can understand the passions at stake as the stepsisters vie for him. A true dark bass-baritone, he is ideal for the role in looks and gesture, and he brings depth to the role: one senses Dandini's bitterness at being rejected by Angelina in favor of Ramiro and at having finally to "unmask" himself as the valet. Nathan Berg plays the prince's mentor Alidoro (here presented as an Enlightenment-like philosophe) as a man possessed by a moral message; possessed of a velvety bass voice with spectacular coloratura, Berg delivers his aria like a wild-eyed prophet. Among the stepsisters, Lucia Cirillo stands out for her believable, well-acted (and non-ugly) Tisbe. My least favorite member of the cast is Luciano di Pasquale, the Don Magnifico. Fully behind Peter Hall's concept, di Pasquale creates an uncouth, loutish, even repulsive character (and spits out his patter to percussive effect). But like Ebeneezer Scrooge, Don Magnifico needs some endearing quality to make the final reconciliation believable, and this di Pasquale does not provide. Di Pasquale has quite a lovely bass voice, but at times he uses it like a bulldozer.
If you're used to hearing CENERENTOLA's orchestral score rendered as pretty wallpaper music, then brace yourself for Vladimir Jurowski's assertive and dramatic interpretation. The sounds which emanate from the London Symphony on this occasion are reminiscent of the best period-instrument orchestras, partly due to their use of just intonation and valveless brass instruments, which add a certain bright abraisiveness. The orchestra is an unapologetic participant in the opera, and Jurowski gets every bit of "meat" from the score. (And the fortepiano's comic "asides" in the recitatives are a delight.)
CENERENTOLA has several classic Rossinian "confusion ensembles", and Peter Hall's staging of them is apt, keeping in mind the doom and panic which the text portends: characters crawl, weave, "swim" in slow motion, or simply sink to the ground in despair. And I liked that this production leaves no doubt that there is a whole bevy of guests at the Prince's ball, not just the Don and his stepdaughters.
In short, this is a brilliant CENERENTOLA - full of wit, intelligence, and musical excellence. Viewers wanting an "all-star" cast will probably look elsewhere; for a dead-on interpretation of the opera's spirit, this is the version to own.