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In Review > International

La Cenerentola

GLYNDEBOURNE
The Glyndebourne Festival
5/23/12

In Review Glyndebourne Cenerentola hdl 812
Cinderella ending: DeShong and Stayton in Glyndebourne's Cenerentola
© Clive Barda 2012

When Peter Hall's production of La Cenerentola was first seen at Glyndebourne, in 2005, it was considered ordinary. Hall, one of the U.K.'s senior theater and opera directors, created an important sequence of shows for the festival during the 1970s and '80s, including stagings of works by Monteverdi, Cavalli and Britten, as well as the three Mozart–da Ponte comedies. Regarded as almost avant-garde during his heyday at Glyndebourne, Hall (now eighty-one) has latterly become viewed as a member of the ancien régime, due to the vagaries of fashion. In 2005, his Cenerentola was simply too conventional to attract much attention; nothing felt new or radical, beyond a much higher-than-usual level of general grubbiness in Don Magnifico's household as presented in Hildegard Bechtler's sets and Moritz Junge's costumes, both design decisions scarcely in conflict with the text. 

Yet the show has stuck, and in this season's revival (supervised by Lynne Hockney), which opened on May 23, its virtues shone out: the staging defines narrative and character flawlessly, its stage pictures and movement all work perfectly, and its lineups of principals at the front of the stage for ensembles — admittedly a highly traditional device — articulate the score with straightforwardly non-interventionist musical perception. It finally registered as a classic account.

In fact, the performance proved to be very special from other points of view as well. One of its major pluses was the presence in the pit of the young American conductor James Gaffigan, conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which was in exceptional form. Already known to Glyndebourne audiences for his performances of Così and Falstaff, Gaffigan, who is still in his early thirties, offered an impressively easy command of the score and an ability to present it with a blend of dynamism and substance; in his hands, Rossini's music had brilliance without superficiality. In addition, Gaffigan bound his principal singers into an immaculately unified team.

There was clean, intricate ensemble work throughout from Cenerentola's two badly behaved sisters, Elena Xanthoudakis's Clorinda and Victoria Yarovaya's Tisbe. As their deplorable father, Don Magnifico, Umberto Chiummo displayed a lanky physicality and a slightly sinister air that felt more realistic and even more disturbing than the regular buffo presentation, while he sang the role with an imposing tone and a high level of definition. 

Chinese bass-baritone Shenyang, winner of the 2007 Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, sang his first opera performance in the U.K. on this occasion as the Prince's philosopher tutor, Alidoro. His highly expressive face and grand presence added to the impact of a warm, richly textured voice; the combination is a potent one and will surely allow him a high-flying career.

Replacing the originally announced Dandini was the Argentine baritone Armando Noguera. Seemingly a little nervous at first, Noguera gained in confidence throughout the evening, in sum offering a polished and eminently likable account of the Prince's sidekick, his vocalism sketched in a pleasant and agile light-lyric baritone. He had obviously had enough time to learn to execute some complex stage routines to the same level as his colleagues.

American tenor Taylor Stayton (Ramiro), also a U.K. debutant, is another young artist who seems likely to have an important career ahead of him. Making light of the sequence of top Cs in his Act II aria "Si, ritrovarla io giuro," he sang fluently and charmingly throughout, shaping his lines with delicacy and imagination. 

American mezzo Elizabeth DeShong sang the title role. She had appeared with Glyndebourne before, notably as Hansel in the touring wing of the festival's production of Humperdinck's fairy-tale opera in 2008. That scarcely prepared audiences, however, for the stunning impression she created as Cenerentola. Even in these Rossini-friendly times there are few exponents of the role able to articulate the notes as easily and expertly as DeShong did; not so much as a demisemiquaver fell by the wayside, even in the most flamboyantly virtuoso passages. In addition, the sheer loveliness of her voice and its absolute integrity from top to bottom (her contralto depths were glorious) marked her out as a Rossini interpreter of astonishing gifts. Musicality dripped from every phrase. She crowned her performance with an interpretation of "Nacqui all'affanno" that brought the house down, a fitting climax to an evening of vintage Rossini and vintage Glyndebourne. It does not get much better than that. spacer 

GEORGE HALL

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