Friday, December 2, 2011

Opéra National de Paris - La Cenerentola - 11/28/11

Composer: Gioachino Rossini
Conductor: Bruno Campanella
Director: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Producer: Grischa Asagaroff
Angelina: Karine Deshayes
Don Ramiro: Javier Camarena
Clorinda: Jeanette Fischer
Tisbe: Anna Wall
Don Magnifico: Carlos Chausson
Dandini: Riccardo Novaro
Alidoro: Alex Esposito

Attending an opera at Palais Garnier had long been a goal of mine, so this trip to Paris sounded like the perfect opportunity to finally make it happen, until it started to dawn on me that all my well-laid musical plans might be irreversibly doomed. Although the London Symphony Orchestra with Valery Gergiev and Hélène Grimaud at Salle Pleyel had been solidly sold out forever, we had somehow managed to make up for it with very agreeable concerts at Sainte Chapelle and Saint-Eustache. It would, however, be much more difficult to find a substitute for an evening at the opera, so we decided to take a chance with last minute tickets for La Cenerentola, which had also been hopelessly sold out from the very minute the tickets went on sale to the general public, except for some prohibitively expensive seats.
Somehow the opera gods must have been on our side because after a long and anxious wait, we ended with 10 Euros seats that were not half bad, especially once we had moved to the box next to ours. Being in Palais Garnier is, of course, a mind-blowing experience in itself, and it was hard to figure out where to look among the fancy stone friezes and columns, the ubiquitous statues and mirrors, the grand staircase, the splendid foyer and my personal favorite: the whimsical, colorful ceiling by Marc Chagall in the auditorium. All the gold and red opulence brought us back to another time while putting us in the most appropriate frame of mind for Rossini’s hyper-melodic version of the timeless fairly tale of Cinderella.

Although Charles Perrault’s heroine is an excessively familiar character of Western culture, her musical Italian counterpart is a tad different, mostly due to the opera conventions of the early 19th century. Therefore, the glass slipper became a bracelet, since female artists could not expose their feet on a respectable stage. The fairy godmother was replaced by a philosopher – who also happens to be the prince’s former tutor – so that nobody would have to bother with the limited special effects at the time, and the mean step-mother was substituted by a greedy father, making the heavily moral ending resonate even louder.
In the title role, French mezzo-soprano Karin Deshayes effortlessly displayed the right combination of sweetness, intelligence and assertiveness, whether she was slaving for her step-sisters or making her grand entrance at the ball. Her coloratura was spot on, and its intense yet delicate radiance grabbed everybody’s attention at once. To top off this well-rounded performance, she did not hesitate to show some sharp comic timing as well.
Her two step-siblings, Jeanette Fischer and Anna Wall as respectively Clorinda and Tisbe, had the right sounds but the wrong looks. Decked out with enormous noses, outrageous hair and ridiculous outfits, they also distinguished themselves with commedia dell’arte-style routines that were too delirious to fit in well into the overall story. That’s too bad because they obviously are talented singers, who would have been much better off with a little bit more subtlety in their acting.
The male singers constituted an unquestionably solid cast. Mexican tenor Javier Camanera was a very charming Don Ramiro, his ardent devotion to his beloved Angelina endearingly innocent and strongly heart-felt. Carlos Chausson was a brilliant Don Magnifico, although his excessive antics could become borderline grating. Alex Esposito as the philosopher Alidoro and Riccardo Navarro as the valet Dandini fulfilled their parts with professional assurance. The all-male chorus was consistently excellent.
The set consisted essentially of black and white curtains, on which were outlined the décors, as well as the occasional piece of furniture. This minimalist approach had the advantage of efficiently placing and serving the action without being over-bearing. The costumes were quietly resplendent as well, with a special mention for the magnificent black velvet dress with discreet white ornaments that Angelina wears at the ball.
Rossini’s sunny score found the right conductor in Italian maestro Bruno Campanella, who led the uniformly committed orchestra into a bright, engaging interpretation of it. They smartly let the bel canto singers perform their intricate acrobatics while providing the steady support for them.

So even if the farcical moments were a bit over the top, the action dragged on from time to time, and the ending turned Angelina into an almost insufferable goodie two-shoes, the stellar cast, solid orchestra and Rossini’s scintillating composition all contributed in making one more of my musical dreams come true with a wonderful night at the Opéra de Paris.

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