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La Cenerentola

MUNICH
Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz
11/13/15

FOR THIRTY-FIVE YEARS, the Munich opera public has known only one production of Rossini's La Cenerentola. On December 20, 1980, the legendary Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production celebrated a first evening triumph at the Bavarian State Opera; that same classic version is still alive and well in today's repertoire. 

That the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz decided to mount its own new production, in the original Italian, in effect challenging the unchallengeable, was in itself a calculated risk. Gärtnerplatz Intendant Josef E. Köpplinger's faith in his own theatre troupe was more than justified at the performance of November 13 in the Cuvilliéstheater, that rococo jewel whose 500-seat capacity proved to be the perfect size for both work and ensemble. 

How did the Gärtnerplatz do it? Quite simply by choosing an incomparably talented cast whose vocal proficiency seemed boundless, whose youthful enthusiasm imbued each scene with infectious joy and whose ability not only to cope with Rossini's coloratura but to embellish vocal lines astounded again and again. Croatian mezzo soprano Diana Haller sparkled, shone and touched in the title role. Blessed with a resonant lower register, leading nearly seamlessly over the break and culminating in stunningly unforced top notes, Haller impressed with infallible technique, darkly-hued tone quality and charming stage presence. 

Haller might have totally dominated had not her fellow soloists kept remarkable pace with her. Italian bass Marco Filippo Romano was a magnificent Don Magnifico, secure in text and music and with a voluminous, first-rate voice. As Don Ramiro, Philippine-American tenor Arthur Espiritu showed himself to be a master of bel canto style. His coloratura was immaculate, he was able to sing high-lying phrases in either piano or forte, as it were, and his high C in "Dolce speranza" was nothing short of thrilling. There was enough steel in his voice to guarantee projection yet enough silk in his timbre to seduce the ear. Add to these three the virile and agile (vocally and dramatically) Vittorio Prato as Dandini and the imposing István Kovács as Alidoro and it was no surprise that the applause and cheering for all involved at the final curtain found no end. 

Much credit must also go to conductor Michael Brandstätter who drew accurate, stylistic playing from the Gärtnerplatz Orchestra. Brandstätter demanded much of the cast, taking a number of ensembles at a breakneck pace. His singers did not disappoint him! He also kept the orchestral playing transparent at all times and responded with sensitivity to his singers' needs. The Gärtnerplatz Male Chorus (Felix Meybier) consistently outdid itself, having a stellar evening. The Cuvilliéstheater's stage facilities, or rather the lack of them, make any production an adventure. 

Stage director Brigitte Fassbaender worked well with her cast. There was liveliness, gusto and invention in abundance. Some of her decisions were more pictorially effective than dramatically coherent. Sets and costumes (Dietrich von Grebmer) are timelessly quasi-modern, often full of humor, often marvelously tongue in cheek. Dandini's first entrance as a perfect double of Bavarian King Ludwig II, complete with backdrop of the famous Neuschwanstein castle got a good laugh even if it had no relevance to the story and, in fact, in respect to Ludwig's homosexuality, gave entirely the wrong message. Likewise, Angelina's appearance in the final scene costumed as Bavarian Countess Elisabeth, later Empress Sissi of Austria, which was as pictorially impressive as it was dramatically nonsensical. The only scene that totally backfired was in Don Ramiro's wine cellar, where the chorus was staged as uncontrollably naughty students. It was juvenile and hopelessly unfunny and distracted from Don Magnifico's "Intendende? Reggitor?" aria.  Fassbaender showed a good feeling for both the serious and comedic nature of the tale although she went a bit too far with Don Magnifico, making him not only vain and contemptuous but also, through explicit staging, a lecher who demands (and has obviously in the past taken) whatever sexual favors he perversely desires from his step-daughter Angelina. Otherwise, the production was, for the most part, consistently entertaining.  —Jeffrey A. Leipsic 

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