A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes
We’ll get to the details shortly. For now let’s get straight to the point. Irish National Opera’s production of Rossini’s "Cinderella/La Cenerentola" runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre November 12, 14, and 16. Buy your tickets now. For just as Cinderella is one of the great fairytales of all time,"Cinderella/La Cenerentola" might prove to be one Irish National Opera’s truly great productions. Coming at the end of an impressive year, Irish National Opera appear to have kept one of their best wines till last, delivering a gorgeous, glorious, lovingly realised production. One celebrating an all time classic fairytale, along with the power and pleasure of stories.
For many, Cinderella’s tale will forever be associated with Disney’s movie from 1950, with its pumpkin carriages, talking mice, and other bippity boppity boos. Yet the legend of the pauper who becomes a Princess by virtue of her goodness has had many incarnations. From the Greeks in 7 BC, to Charles Perrault's fairytale, to the better known Brothers Grimm, Cinderella has been winning hearts and Princes for a very long time. Inspired by Perrault’s 1697 version, Cendrillon, Gioachino Rossini’s 1817 opera "Cinderella/La Cenerentola,” with libretto by Jacopo Ferretti, dispenses with fairy godmothers and other supernatural gimmicks. Offering instead a modest, moral fable dressed up in a richly comic melodrama.
While the tale’s basics remain intact, there’s some significant foundational shifts in Rossini’s escapist, romantic fantasy. A live-in maid more than a family member, the bookish Cinderella lives with her selfish stepfather, Don Magnifico, and her two self-serving, half sisters, Clorinda and Tisbe. An act of charity towards the Prince’s tutor, Alidoro, who calls disguised as a beggar, leads Don Ramiro, Prince of Salerno, to call upon Don Magnifico’s daughters in his search of a wife. Yet looking to satisfy himself as to the character of his bridal prospects, Ramiro switches clothes with his valet Dandini, watching the daughter’s reactions as Dandini pretends to be the Prince. As secrets gradually lead to truths, hilarious hijinks ensue as balls and bracelets, plans and promises, often go awry. But must pride forever go before a fall? Can forgiveness really forgive all? And can true love find a way so that everyone can live…
Under director Orpha Phelan’s considered eye, Cinderella’s story is inextricably linked to a larger network of canonical stories. A relationship cleverly established from the outset by way of a superbly rendered screen, which also relays the basics of Cinderella’s backstory. Throughout, stories, storybooks, and storytelling loom large as Phelan crafts some compositionally brilliant scenes, with the assistance of some famous fairytale cameos, fashioning a series of lively, interlinked chapters out of Rossini’s exuberant score and Ferretti’s humorous libretto.
A superlative set by Nicky Shaw proves staggering in both scope and simplicity. Superbly evoking the pages of a book, or books in a library in a stunning visual masterstroke, both are steeped in a cartoonish, almost Disney-esque colourfulness, Shaw’s beautifully crafted costumes proving no less superb. Matt Haskin's lighting might suffer some opening night shadow, yet the depth and texture it otherwise lends proves invaluable. Only surtitles fall short at times. If they function as narrative prompts rather than direct renderings, they leave a lot to be desired on occasion, seeming to omit large sections of text, or else reading like an early version of Google translates working off patchy Wifi. Music, impressively realised by the Irish National Opera Orchestra, superbly conducted by INO artistic director, Fergus Sheil, suffers no such issues, beautifully releasing the boisterousness and tenderness of Rossini’s lush score. Which singing only elevates to even greater heights
Under Phelan’s masterful direction, Rossini’s vocally demanding opera is sumptuously and vibrantly realised, with Phelan eliciting some outstanding performances from her chorus and soloists. Who often marry moments of coloratura brilliance with some top class acting. Bass-baritone David Oštrek as the astute Alidoro, and baritone Riccardo Novaro as the deceptive Dandini are both terrific, with Novaro’s Dandini being a comic delight. As is a stunning Graeme Danby as the blustering and bombastic Don Magnifico, a cross between Falstaff and a mean spirited Sancho Panza, with Danby consistently impressive throughout. Along with soprano Rachel Croash, and mezzo-soprano Niamh O’Sullivan, as scene-stealing sisters Clorinda and Tisbe. While Croash’s Clorinda is never anything less than remarkable, O’Sullivan is an utter revelation, marrying singing and performance with a magnetic presence. Whether it’s a slump of the shoulders or a ribbon twirling routine, O’Sullivan’s Tisbe is delivered with a detailed exactitude, yet one in which every detail looks, and sounds, natural and effortless.
Which is also the case with tenor Andrew Owens’s winning Ramiro, who overflows with comic charm, his superb rendition of Pegno adorato e caro proving to be one of the nights highlights. A night that belongs to mezzo-soprano, Tara Erraught, as the eponymous Cinderella, making plain why she has taken the opera world by storm. Erraught’s thrillingly robust vocals, revealing a voice utterly transcendent yet wholly immanent, often belie their own power. Which Erraught releases in controlled measures, casting spell after magical spell, ending in a breathtaking finale. Throughout, a wonderful chemistry exists between pairs or ensemble, cohering beautifully on several occasions, including a striking rendition of Questo è un nodo avviluppato.
At a time when many famous stories find themselves being politically reimagined, Phelan remains true to Rossini’s larger than life tale and allows it to simply tell itself. Making the experience far more entertaining, and politically illuminating, for doing so. Two hundred years on, Rossini’s "Cinderella/La Cenerentola" can still make you laugh, love and listen. If a dream is a wish your heart makes, only opera can dream nights like this. Singing, music, performance, production: Irish National Opera’s "Cinderella/La Cenerentola" is utterly, utterly glorious.
"Cinderella/La Cenerentola" by Gioachino Rossini, with libretto by Jacopo Ferretti, presented by Irish National Opera, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre November 12, 14, and 16.