Cenerentola at Glyndebourne

23 May

It’s good to be back at Glyndebourne and particularly on the warmest day of the year so far.  Since last year, they’ve built the famous wind turbine and have managed it so that, while it dominates most of the countryside around, it’s possible to avoid it being obvious from a number of parts of the garden.

The best news is that this Cenerentola is a very special experience indeed.  It’s 60 years since Glyndebourne started the post-war Rossini revival with this opera and gained for itself a special reputation for Rossini style.  This struck me as being fully within that tradition and also showing that Glyndebourne can still create an alert, vibrant ensemble of young singers, giving a superbly prepared, alert and stylish performance.

There wasn’t a weak link in the cast which had three UK stage debuts.  You knew it was going to be special when Elizabeth DeShong, as Angelina, sang her opening phrases.  This is among the finest Rossini contralto voices that I’ve heard – think Simionato or Marilyn Horne without the metallic edge – a gloriously rich, even, generous sound.  And she can manage the pathos and the bravura features of the role as completely as anyone else I’ve heard.  I now want to hear her as Isabella, Rosina, Isolier and maybe some of the Handels too.  This is a real star in the making.

Taylor Stayton only made his professional debut two years ago but he struck me as a mature, confident Ramiro, well able to manage the notes, singing stylishly, acting with wit and getting the words across.  He had a lovely double act going with Armando Noguera’s Dandini.  Noguera (a late replacement for the advertised singer) has one of those attractive, dry-ish voices that work so well for this sort of music – not unlike Bruscantini or Corbelli and he sang it as fluently and idiomatically as those two.  As all good Dandinis should, he created a rapport with the audience but never quite overdid the clowning – you felt that there real disappointment at his return to being a valet. Whether he (or Mr Stayton) would come across as well in a larger house is more debateable but here was an audience favourite who suits this theatre well and I hope he’ll be back.

Umberto Chiummo struck me as on the young side for Magnifico without quite the authority that his predecessors here have had, but he was always intelligent and created a really unpleasant character.  Again, there was a great rapport with the other cast memebrs.  Shenyang, the 2007 Cardiff Singer of the World, made as a good an Alidoro as the role allows.  The sisters were strong.

James Gaffigan conducted an elegant performance – shaping the lines well, enjoying the dialogues between the instruments, building the crescendos with perfect timing.  Maybe he isn’t quite Gui, but he will do very well and the LPO were on alert, strong form.

The slight down-side comes from Peter Hall’s production.  It was never his strongest piece of work and looked pretty old-fashioned in 2005 when it was new.  The routines feel self-conscious and the cast comes to face the audience in a row in the great ensembles a little too often.  You can overlook this because the acting and the way in which the characters interact is fresh, intelligent and rings absolutely true.

This was a true ensemble performance of strong, young singers, working together, interacting, treating the piece seriously and as if it mattered – fresh, unhackneyed and hugely enjoyable.  It made you realise what a gem of an opera this is.  I don’t think I’ve seen a better performance.  I suspect it can only get better as the run goes on and they can relax a bit..

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