Welsh National Opera has taken two of their productions to the Hippodrome in Bristol, a brave venture given the limitations of the venue, the most serious of which is the lack of an orchestra pit. Despite the difficulties, they mounted an enjoyable, if flawed, version of one of Rossini’s most celebrated bel canto operas – it’s a multi-coloured pantomime production with some delightful moments but some disappointing shortcomings.
Angelina (aka Cinderella) lives with her ‘mean girls’ half-sisters and her step-father, Don Magnifico. They learn that Prince Ramiro is going to hold a ball and will choose the most beautiful girl there to be his bride. The prince’s valet, Dandini, turns up at the Magnifico mansion disguised as the prince while the prince pretends to be the valet. Angelina falls in love with the man she thinks is the valet. The unkind sisters try to prevent Angelina from going to the ball but with the help of the prince’s tutor, Alidoro, and her trusty band of magical mice she is transformed and transported to the party. To no one’s surprise, there is a happy ending.
The highlight of the whole production is Tara Erraught’s loveable Angelina. It is one of the great mezzo roles and there are a freshness and charm about the way she interacts with the prince and his retainers and the same guileless charm is lavished on the household mice. This might all be a bit cloying but it is underpinned by some very fine singing that gets stronger as the opera moves to its climax. The famous aria – Nacqui all’affanno – where she pleads for reconciliation with her disgraced family was – as it should be – truly moving. And for bel canto style she was matched vocally by Italian star Matteo Macchioni as Prince Ramiro. He has a fine Rossinian tenor voice but he occasionally looked a little disconnected from some of the comic business going on around him. Not a problem for Giorgio Caoduro, who seemed to be enjoying impersonating the prince so much that I wondered if he would be willing to scale back when he became Dandini again. A similar broad comedy characterised the performances of all the Magnifico clan.
I loved the look of the production though it is easy to see why it irritated some. The clashing and vibrant colour scheme of every scene and the antics of the oversized mice (six excellent dancers) were great but sometimes the look of the show threatened to overwhelm the sound of the piece. A strange effect of the lack of an orchestra pit was that the overture sounded magnificent while the first entries of the singers, by contrast, sounded dim and far away until Tomas Hanus got a grip of the acoustic problems and kept the orchestral volume right down. As ever, the WNO orchestra and chorus were utterly reliable though some of the chorus choreography looked a bit lifeless.
This is an opera that is only worth doing if you have top quality bel canto singers on stage. Though the sheer playfulness of the production will delight some and the singing will delight others it is not quite the pre-Christmas treat that will please everyone.
- Composer: Gioachino Rossini
- Libretto: Giacopo Ferretti
- Conductor: Tomas Hanus
- Director: Joan Font (revival: Xevi Dorca)
- Performers include: Tara Erraught, Fabio Capitanucci, Matteo Macchioni, Giorgio Caoduro.
- Venue: Bristol Hippodrome
- UNTIL 22 November 2018