Though I have some reservations about the production, there are such great performances on this video that I have given it four stars and recommend it. For instance, you can enjoy the talents of Cecilia Bartoli, here making her American debut, who gives a spirited and vocally dazzling performance of the heroine. Then there is the dashing Rossinian tenor Raul Gimenez, who lends impeccable elegance and vocal polish to the role of Don Ramiro. I'm sorry for the cursory way that I've treated the two leads, but I would really like to concentrate on the two buffo roles of Don Magnifico and Dandini, played by Enzo Dara and Alessandro Corbelli. Dara is a veteran Italian basso buffo who, as another revewer pointed out, bears a striking resemblence to Ed Wynn. His voice was clearly past its prime at the time of this performance and is quite weak, though his stage manner is as funny as ever. He is very endearing, but I'm not sure he adequately emphasizes the character's menacing qualities. However, his rapid delivery of the patter in his third aria (while throwing cards) is unbelievable! As the prince-for-a-day valet Dandini, Corbelli shows why he has become famous in this role: his performance is both superbly sung and hilariously acted. Just watch his aria: this is clearly a great comedian as well as a great singer! Corbelli is a fine artist, no doubt about it. Finally, there is Michele Pertusi as Alidoro, who has a fine voice but is hampered by the production's stodgy conception of the role.
As for the physical production, I find it less apt than the recent Metropolitan Opera production (telecast on PBS but not yet available commercially). The Met production was true to the surreal, zany spirit of Rossini. This prettified Houston production looks like a cross between a Disney fantasy and a French Rococo painting. The result is that Rossini's urbane, witty, realistic comedy looks too much like what he didn't intend it to be - a fairy tale. It's a beautiful, magical production, mind you - but it isn't very Rossinian. The Met production is not flawless by any means, but it is more true to Rossini's world. Consider for example how the two versions stage the famous sextet: in the Met version the participants actually get tangled in a long piece of string (as the text says); in Houston they just sit there and sing.
But this production has so many wonderful performances going for it, that any opera lover should buy it. LA CENERENTOLA is a one-of-a-kind evening's entertainment, no matter what the sets and costumes and staging look like. But please look out for that Met production, which also has Bartoli, Corbelli, and Pertusi.