Edinburgh International Festival
Rossini – La Cenerentola
19:15 (run ends 26 August)
**** (4 stars)
A great crowd-pleaser: but where was the music, and where was the emotion? The whole production was geared towards making the audience laugh – barber-shop choreography for chorus and principals, visual gags, funny costumes, loadsa laughs: with the music, and some incredibly good singing, merely an aural backdrop to the Concept, from which virtually all emotions had been removed.
In this version of Cinderella, Angelina is the skivvy to her two stepsisters and her father treats her like dirt. Her inherent kindness and goodness shine through and impress the prince’s tutor when he arrives at their house disguised as a beggar. He is visiting all the noble houses to find a suitable bride for his prince, and decides that Angelina is The One. From then on he is, in effect, the fairy godmother, and ensures that everything goes to plan. But even at the end, when the prince is united with his love, her family are unable to accept her good fortune and mock and vilify her – even when she is asking for mercy for them: all she wants is to be recognised as a member of the family, but this they are determined to deny her.
The music is very Rossini, light and frothy and fun – but also contains moments of great pathos and ardent outpourings of love: none of these were permitted to make themselves heard or felt: all was subservient to the comedy. It was a hilarious evening – but it wasn’t true to Rossini.
The set was very ingenious: a succession of ever-smaller fireplaces came apart and revolved to become rickety staircases and almost-tenement buildings, then revolved again to become the spines of books. A book of fairy tales, which was consulted by most of the characters to confirm that things were [or were not] going as they should, passed from hand to hand, while Angelina’s cleaner’s trolley became many different things including the coach that took her to the ball. For some of the action the cast moved off the stage and on to a walkway that skirted the orchestra pit: fine for those in the audience who could still see the cast, useless for the rest of us whose view was obscured. The gales of laughter indicated that great fun was being had – but we couldn’t share it. The projection of a wide range of images was an integral part of the production – again, those in the cheaper seats lost out on the full effect as clouds, flowers, the castle, the storm, and cogs whirring and revolving moved across the back of the stage or the drop curtain. The prince’s entourage were dressed in academic gowns, moved in tightly-choreographed groups, at various points acted as winged cupids – and completely obscured the more tender moments.
It was excellently done if you like that sort of thing, but I would have preferred a production that allowed the story to stand by itself. It felt as though it had to be dumbed down and “made funny” because a modern audience couldn’t possibly be allowed to take on board a story which tells us that kindness and goodness triumph over greed and selfishness. At the end of the opera, Angelina’s wedding gown was ripped from her, leaving her in the cleaner’s overall in which she began the show: was this to emphasise the illusory nature of everything that had happened to her?
It was so disappointing…