|Nice People Win|
Last Monday I went to Cenerentola at the Bayerische Staatsoper. I’m sorry I didn’t write about it faster but lots of work and this fast-track six day Ring have limited my blogging time. (I expect the shorter operas of this week as well as the imminent departure of my drinking buddy will make keeping up easier soon.) Also I had one of those crappy limited-view seats of which this opera house has so many, and I missed a lot of the action. So here are some brief thoughts on what I heard and managed to see.
Rossini, La Cenerentola. Bayerische Staatsoper, 7/9/2012.
Musikalische Leitung Antonello Allemandi
Inszenierung Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Bühne und Kostüme Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Don Ramiro Lawrence Brownlee
Dandini Nikolay Borchev
Don Magnifico Alessandro Corbelli
Clorinda Eri Nakamura
Tisbe Paola Gardina
Cenerentola Joyce DiDonato
Alidoro Alex Esposito
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production has classic status here. It’s a storybook style with highly choreographed action and giant costumes befitting the opera’s bouncy, repetitive music as well as its over-the-top villains and manic action. This is the treatment this opera almost always receives, but this production is old enough it may have been what others copied. (Personally I love Achim Freyer's production--which is similar except for the whole Achim Freyer part.) It’s charming enough, and from what I could see of it this revival was neatly directed and the physical production is in good shape. In exchange for getting to see so many big-name casts in such a short period of time at these Festival performances one must be prepared for a degree of sloppiness, but this cast did a full run in May and most of the rehearsal seemed to stick. The orchestra showed signs of underrehearsal, but nothing too dire. One clarinet had a little too much squawky fun in the overture. Antonello Allemandi (a wonderful surname for an Italian conducting in Germany) led ably with appropriate zippiness.
The big draw was Joyce DiDonato in the title role. She is possibly the most quintessentially American of major opera singers. She has a bright, modern, and very relateable presence onstage; she could be that outrageously successful friend of whom you would be very jealous if she weren’t just so darn nice and unconceited. DiDonato's vocal success is a triumph of effort, of polished technique and preparation. It’s not that the kind of virtuoso coloratura she sings necessarily requires more technique than any other kind of singing. But when you’re singing all those quick runs. the technique is in the foreground to an unusual extent. Presence plus technique plus looks, she's one of those singers the media would call a “complete package.” But there’s something missing: a distinctive and attractive basic sound. When not singing fast notes, her voice sounded tense, fluttery and in higher registers screechy, or at least that was the case on Monday night. What strikes you is not her sound but her mastery of the notes.
Likeability and hard work are the most American of virtues, mystery is not. Sometimes incredible voices emanate from disconcertingly ordinary people, other times the people onstage seem not quite human, otherworldly, possessed. DiDonato contains no such surprises, she just does what she should in an exceptionally gracious and accomplished fashion. Cenerentola is the perfect role for her because it makes her play, more or less, her offstage persona: it’s about a normal person who is rewarded for being nice and hard-working. Isn’t it sweet to see someone so deserving get her prince and attendant big poofy dress? To be honest I would prefer to see something whose result I didn’t already know. That Joyce DiDonato as Joyce DiDonato will get a happy ending is pre-ordained.
Her Prince was Lawrence Brownlee, who I first saw sing this role in Philadelphia in 2006 or so. He sounded fabulous then and sounds even better now, and picked up a lot of confidence and flair in the intervening years too. For some reason I find him more genuinely charming onstage than DiDonato, perhaps because he didn’t seem so pre-plannned in every particular. In the rest of the cast, Alessandro Corbelli has the perfect personality for Don Magnifico but, based on this and his recent Dulcamara, his voice has exited stage right while he remains on the boards. He was often unaudible and speaking through the patter. The rest were better, particularly Alex Esposito’s resonate Alidoro. Nikolay Borchev was sometimes blustery as Dandini but warmed up well. (Doesn’t this opera seem to feature one more low male voice than it should?) As the sisters, Eri Nakamura and Paola Giardina camped it up, with Giardina in particular having some genuinely funny moments.