Cenerentola at Paris OpÈra

A version of the enduringly
popular Cinderella tale, it famously sheds much of the magic. There is no
pumpkin or glass slipper. A fairy godfather takes the place of a fairy
godmother. A buffoonishly wicked stepfather fills in for a simply evil wicked
stepmother. Still, the opera soared in popularity all over the world (it was
the first opera presented in Australia, for example). Nevertheless, it was a
relative latecomer to the Paris OpÈra, only arriving here only in 1977. The
current production, by the late Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, is even older, dating
back to its 1968 premiere at Munich’s Bavarian State Opera. Paris audiences
only saw this version for the first time when it entered the repertoire last

Lately, Cenerentola has enjoyed a renaissance in operatic capitals,
with the principal roles going in recent years to such stars as Cecilia
Bartoli, Juan Diego Florez, Lawrence Brownlee, and Joyce DiDonato (who will
sing the title part at New York’s Metropolitan Opera next season). The OpÈra’s
effort is more subdued, though the great basso buffo Simone Alaimo,
now a bit worn of voice, shares the role of Don Magnifico. His nephew, baritone
Nicola Alaimo, is the alternate cast’s Dandini, leading us to wonder what
synergies these operatic relatives might make if paired on stage and why they
were not. The question lingered in my mind, but the older Alaimo was a tour
de force
, impossible not to watch in his boorish physical comedy. It is
the title role that really sparkles, however, and in the promising young mezzo
Serena Malfi the OpÈra made a most fortunate casting decision. Lithe lyricism
and a purring lower register, together with crystal clear coloratura runs,
evoked a young Bartoli. Already scheduled for a Metropolitan Opera debut, the
public has much to look forward to in this exciting new artist, who only made
her stage debut in 2009 and has room to grow. Tenor Antonio Siragusa has
nothing to answer for in a Cenerentola universe dominated by Florez
and Brownlee. A fine lyric tenor, he scaled the role’s difficult ascents with
admirable confidence and enjoyable flair. “Si, ritrovarla io giuro” was easily
the evening’s highlight among the male singing. Riccardo Novaro’s Dandini
accomplished this difficult role with zeal — a servant, Dandini must
impersonate his master and then switch back again. FranÁois Lis’s less well
articulated legato eviscerated the charm of the fairy godfather
Alidoro. Jeannette Fischer and Cornelia Oncioiu played up the comic notes in
the stepsister roles of Clorinda and Tisbe. Riccardo Frizza led a delicate and
well balanced performance that took appreciable advantage of the Palais
Garnier’s intimacy. The time may have come for heavier works to be staged there

Ponnelle’s production, for which he also designed the sets and costumes,
looks like a giant dollhouse, with individual rooms in Don Magnifico’s run down
manor and Don Ramiro’s palace emerging from behind sliding screens. It is a bit
quaint, but tells the story most effectively and avoids the current
preoccupation with overdirecting classic opera.

Paul du Quenoy

here for cast and production information

image_description=Opera National de Paris/Agathe Poupeney
product_title=Cenerentola at Paris OpÈra
product_by=A review by Paul du Quenoy
product_id=Above photo by Opera National de Paris/Agathe Poupeney