Cher Public

Girl of the moment

cenerentola_coverIt took the Metropolitan Opera decades to catch up with the rest of the world and finally stage La Cenerentola. Gioachino Rossini’s opera buffa, one of his most beloved and accomplished works, received its belated Met debut in 1997, amidst legitimate suspicions that the new production was less a genuine desire to add a belcanto masterpiece to the company’s repertoire than a concession to Cecilia Bartoli’s demands.

Since then the production has been revived several times with galaxy of international mezzo-sopranos such as Jennifer Larmore, Sonia Ganassi, Olga Borodina and, just this past season, superstar Elina Garanca.

The Latvian mezzo-soprano has achieved a dizzying ascent to the highest echelons of operatic stardom in only a few years. She possesses all the ingredients the modern operatic world considers necessary to reach the A list: a pleasant voice, an even more pleasant stage presence, and a photogenic quality for glamorous CD covers. (An exclusive contract with a major recording company is arguably the single most important component).

Although Ms. Garanca introduced herself to the Met audience with Rosina and Cenerentola, I would not consider her a belcanto specialist. In general her coloratura is more than acceptable; however, my distinct feeling is that this repertoire is not like a second skin to her. She lacks the nonchalance and insouciance that a true belcantista wields when tackling those interminable florid musical figures.

The skill of true belcanto specialists is to make the audience believe they are doing acrobatics in mid air without a protective net. Obviously, they do have a net, their ironclad technique, but the audience is supposed to be sitting on the edge of their seats, mouths open in awe and suspense. In Miss Garanca’s approach to pyrotechnics I detect a certain sense of caution that slightly detracts from the feeling of utter elation one should experience at the end of such a tour-de-force as Angelina’s rondò.

My exacting standards are allowed only because we live in an age rich with true Rossini specialists. Not too long ago a performance like Ms. Garanca’s would have been considered flawless.

Overall, Ms. Garanca is an impressive Cenerentola, and even by today’s high standards her performance can ultimately be qualified as a success. Her voice is velvety and mellifluous. She sings tastefully and knows how to shape a phrase, with lovely portamentos and messe di voce, with an even, equalized production throughout her range.

Finally, she is breathtakingly beautiful. She is in fact perhaps too beautiful and regal as the rag-wearing Cenerentola, so that when she later appears in a magnificent evening gown, the contrast is not so striking and dramatic and as it should be.

Ms. Garanca is one of those magnetic artists who automatically galvanizes the audience’s attention, even more so on an HD video, which captures her stunning features, innate elegance and captivating smile in vivid detail. She is not the most humble and unostentatious Cenerentola I have seen; her supermodel looks may have something to do with that.

Her Prince Charming, on the contrary, does not cut a very romantic figure. As much as I would like to ignore it, there is no denying that tenor Lawrence Brownlee’s appeal is severely limited by a less than dashing physical appearance. His somewhat ungainly acting, confined to a few stock gestures, does not help.

His voice, one the other hand, is far from rigid and wooden. To say it plainly, Mr. Brownlee is a first class vocalist. He knows how to sing “sul fiato” producing a homogeneous sound from top to bottom, with no hint of the nasality that often characterizes this type of tenors. His high register is rich with overtones, full of squillo, his bottom sonorous and well supported.

His rendition of “Sì, ritrovarla io giuro” is illustrative of his skills; he is at ease both in the high parts, such as the cabaletta “Dolce speranza” with its exposed high Cs, as well as in the mid section, the Andantino “Pegno adorato e caro”, which, in contrast, lies quite low. Mr. Brownlee is, in a few words, a full lyric tenor gifted with a very wide range and a masterful command of coloratura.

Alessandro Corbelli, perhaps the leading Dandini of the ‘80s and ‘90s, is now singing Don Magnifico with the experience of a long career spent tackling much more virtuosistic roles. Unlike many buffos, he actually sings his part with a real, rich voice; he never speaks or barks his notes. The Italian baritone completely masters the art of rapid-fire patter, of which Rossini arguably wrote the most arduous example with the aria “Sia qualunque delle figlie”.

The role of Dandini is in my view the most difficult to cast. It requires either a buffo able to cope with very flowery singing, or a virtuoso with comic skills, and it’s no easy task to find both qualities, in exactly the same measures, in the same artist. And so, normally, opera companies tend to hire a buffo who will somehow survive all the agility. This Dandini, Simone Alberghini, seems to belong in the latter category. Although he is extremely effective on stage, Mr. Alberghini, whose voice is on the dry side to begin with, tends to aspirate, flatten or slide over the coloratura, and this does not work for me.

Neither am I enthusiastic about John Relyea. The Canadian bass’s instrument has noticeably deteriorated since the first time I heard him in this opera a decade ago, now sounding metallic and unwieldy. Alidoro’s role is virtually limited to one single but major aria; “Là del ciel nell’arcano profondo” is essentially an opera seria aria, with huge intervals, tricky high notes and intricate ornate writing, to which only belcanto masters of the caliber of Samuel Ramey or Michele Pertusi can do full justice.

The roles of the two stepsisters are thankless, with a lot of stage time and no chances to shine. Rachelle Durkin (Clorinda) and Patricia Risley, repeating their roles from the previous revival, are a comically smooth and well tried team. I would prefer a less acidulous sound from Clorinda, who, like Elvira in L’italiana in Algeri and Berta in Il barbiere di Siviglia, is the dominating and most exposed female voice in the ensembles.

Maurizio Benini is a brilliant conductor. In his hands, the famous overture is both a delicate lacework of rarefied and nuanced sounds, and a game of vivid and bright reflections; the famous crescendos are achieved without accelerating tempos, a regrettably all too common trick. He has impeccable timing and draws a musically accurate, polished yet zestful, bubbly performance.

The production by Cesare Lievi, with sets and costumes by Maurizio Balò, was first unveiled in 1997 to mixed reviews. As it is by now a familiar production, I will not dwell on it too long. Personally I like Lievi’s conglomeration of Magritte and Lewis Carroll allusions and do not completely agree with those who find it marred by excessive busyness. Yes, it’s hectic, but after all it is an opera buffa. I do agree that recurring to elements like cracked mirrors, three legged sofas, peeling wallpaper as symbol of moral decline are (and were in 1997) already a bit too bromidic.

As it is clearly noted on the DVD back cover, this production was made possible by Alberto Vilar, who has just made headlines one more time for being sentenced to nine years in prison for wire fraud, securities fraud and money laundering.

I find no fault in Gary Halvorson’s DVD direction. As usual, he seems to know the score in detail and has an acute sense of what to highlight. There is nothing distracting in this direction, and this is more than sufficient for me. The only minor flaw I noticed was to show the wedding cake from above, revealing the steps and thus spoiling the effect of the two protagonists climbing on top of it.

Thomas Hampson is the host of the performance. Except for a brief introduction, his interviews with the artists are included in the DVD’s extras. The most interesting information comes from Ms. Garanca, who reveals her intention to drop La Cenerentola from her repertoire very soon and dedicate herself to less acrobatic, more dramatic roles. She does not say it here, but in other interviews she has declared that her biggest goal is to sing… Amneris.

  • Bill

    It is ElinA Garanca’s Octavian which may well be her absolutely finest achievement to date. It is a pity she decided not to add the Ariadne Komponist to her repertory

  • MontyNostry

    Brownlee’s sound is so much more honeyed and virile than JDF’s.

  • SilvestriWoman

    Completely agree with your take on Cenerentola… Of all the Angelina’s I’ve seen/heard in my time, my fave is still Berganza -- all about the pure sunshine and joy in her voice.

    As for Brownlee, okay, he’s not the greatest actor but gets the job done. The voice is glorious -- the best in its Fach today -- and he has a wonderful face. Handsome, beautiful smile, and very natural when singing.

  • romani

    I cannot get used to this style of video direction. The fast cutting and much used moving camera is distracting to me.
    Those of you who grew up with this sort of thing expect it, and I suppose, are bored by any other approach.

  • Great review, thank you.
    I bought this DVD a month ago, being totally in love with this absolute masterpiece. I think production values are very high, and musical values too.
    Garanca looks gorgeous onstage and personally I thought her colorature was rather brilliant, always musical, in tune and with no aspirates in sight (ref Bartoli), and she manages to look at ease when singing M Rossini’s most punishing roulades.
    Brownlee has a honeyed sound and innate musicality. I had qualms over his Italian diction, very obvious in patter (e.g. his finale duet with Dandini, it wasn’t very convincing). Visually he is totally miscast with the formidably tall Garanca. It doesn’t work, and the production doesn’t help. Corbelli was a delight from start to finish, a stylist thorugh and through, never pulling cheap laughs. It’s a great, juicy role and he knows it. Alberghini was more than OK in the impossible Dandini role. The sisters were delicious, much less strident than most. Relyea was sort of OK, not spectacular.

    I’m head over heels with the Glyndebourne Hall / Jurowski production. More team work than starry evening, it works so well. The production is totally straight, not playing for laughs, and combined with the scintillating, many layered sound of the LPO (natural trumpets, thank God) and Jurowski’s genius handling of the score, everything is lifted from the mere buffo or entertaining and consequently Cenerentola is presented as a human drama, the fun elicited from flesh and blood characters thrown into ridiculous situations, the best and truest comedy one could have. Very Jane Austen in fact. Di Pasquale was really menacing as Magnifico (in spite of a very weak bottom), Mironov very very cute and really charming (though aspirating here and there) and the humane, multi layered and totally convincing Ruxandra Donose delivers a reading which for me nails the character bull’s eye. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen this DVD, over and over again.

    Anyway the Met / Garanca DVD is a HUGE improvement over the terrible Bartoli / Houston or the Barcelona / Florez / DiDonato (equally terrible) DVDs.

    • Liana

      That’s actually a postscriptum to my comment below. What’s so terrible about the DiDonato/Florez dvd? I loved it, which I certainly can’t say about the Met HD.

      • Take a look at the above clips and judge for yourself. To me musically and scenically it seems more flowing and assured, everybody knows what he / she is doing in the general framework.

        • Look at Raquela Sheeran’s delicious Clorinda for example : she doesn’t seem to be DOING much, but ridiculous nevertheless. Not aware of being funny or playing for laughs, she is totally believable as a character AND funny. BTW this always seems to me to be the ‘Cosi’ moment in Cenerentola.

        • Liana

          Just watched the clips. Of course, you’re right. It’s very different from both the Met and Liceu productions, and, at least from these clips,seems much more interesting, as far as the production is concerned. OK, it appears that I *will* be complaining again about your bad influence on my budget, after all…

        • And unfortunately there’s no youtube testimony of the grand way in which Jurowski presents the sublime act I quintet with its clever use of sonata form to highlight the drama (with the minor “ah sempre fra le cenere”) -- actually very serious, no comedy in sight!

  • Liana

    Very interesting review, thank you. I saw the HD, and although Garanca and Brownlee have great voices, I thought the production was colourless and boring. And also looking rather old. But recently, I bought the Cenerentola DVD from Liceu, with DiDonato and Florez, and although Brownlee has a more beautiful voice, I definitely prefer DiDonato to Garanca. And, above all, the production is great, very colourful and pleasant to watch. Off-topic: CF, for once I won’t be complainig that you contributed to my financial ruin. I just bought on an internet auction the Simon Boccangra CD with Rethberg, Martinelli and Tibbett you mentioned on an earlier thread, for 1 euro + 1 euro posting. Probably the best invested 2 euros in my life, so thank you very much :-)

    • My pleasure. :) Reg the BCN Cenerentola -- I love DiDonato and Florez in this, but didn’t you think the prodction rather misses the human point in Rossini’s music? Dunno, I’m so hung about this Glyndebourne DVD. In fact, it totally changed my attitude to Rossini. I thought it was very, very powerful.

      • Just looked at the patter duet Zitto zitto (finale act I) from the Met. Brownlee’s Italian is decidedly curious -- he sings citto citto or something like that, pretty annoying.

      • Liana

        Well, actually, I watched it as a fairy tale, nothing more, nothing less, a variation on the story I loved as a child. And from that point of view, The Met HD doesn’t work, primarily because of the production, whereas the Liceu DVD is perfect. After sitting through half of the HD, I was certain to be watching the most boring opera I’ve ever seen; I decided to give it another try only because of DiDonato, and now I really like the opera. But, of course, it’s a matter of personal taste, and since I’m not a musician, I can’t substantiate my opinion; I liked the DiDonato version very much, I loved the singing and the production, and that’s pretty much it :).

        • Yes I know what you mean, the BCN is like an update of the traditional view, which Ponnelle did best I think. Hate to be nagging, but the Hall / Jurowski lifts the work from this tradition and in my eyes at least conferred a higher status upon it. It’s expensive though, so don’t give it a try. :) Although I might make a copy for you and send it!

        • Liana

          Our posts crossed somewhere over the ocean. A copy would be great, thanks.

        • OK then, my Email is

        • MontyNostry

          It’s just a shame that Hall has made visual drabness (presumably in the name of supposed verisimilitude) such a theme in his Glyndebourne productions. That Don Giovanni in the rain, for instance. I’m not saying we need bandbox colours, but does everything have to be muted and a bit grubby?

        • MontyNostry

          In fact, Sir Peter has made visual drabness something of a Hallmark at Glyndbourne.

  • Constantine A. Papas

    There is no way going back. The paradigm of voice, acting, and looks has been established. Some good singers will be lost, unfortunately, if they don’t meet perceptions that promote theatricality in opera pefromance. It’s good for the art but not for the artists. BTW, Excellent review.

  • Does anybody know if there’s a complete film of this production? Taddei is perfection.

    • Cerquetti -- if Taddei ever did anything second rate I’ve certainly never heard it- to me he was always first class… truly an amazing singer. Such a pity he died so young.

      • armerjacquino

        Eh? He is still alive and was singing Falstaff at the Met at age 69.

        Are you sure you’re not thinking of Bastianini?

      • Nerva Nelli

        Joke, right? The wonderful Taddei will turn 94 in June.

        • Oh Dear! Thank you guys! Now I must write 100 times- I must not go on a Friday night red wine binge then comment on Parterre! Of course I meant Bastianini. Lordy..Lordy- what an idiot- so sorry. Thankfully Mr Taddei isn’t half bad either.

  • Alto

    Without detracting from Garanca’s gifts, I nevertheless ask: is “superstar” not overstating it somewhat?

    • The Vicar of John Wakefield

      She is a “super-hyped” star, like Erwin Schrott.

      True Rossinian stars include Pat Kern and Della Jones.

  • traumgekront

    I have recently become familiar with this delightful opera through met player and I am just in love with it! I don’t normally prefer the bel canto rep, but then again I’m still a neophyte and don’t have all that much experience with it. So I gave it a go and as a result I have fallen completely in love with it. I think what La Cieca said about Elina Garanca being a little too gorgeous in that apron was more or less her only flaw. I thought she sang superbly, and is pretty easy on the eyes too. Brownlee was fantastic, and as mentioned before, does have that incredible honeyed sound…mmmmmm. The production-meh, it had its moments, but all in all, I have to say that I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it! And I thank our doyenne for a great review :)

  • Production premiered in 1997 eh? Somehow Garanca’s/Angelina’s singing on top of the wedding cake reminded me of this classic 1984 NYC performance:

  • parpignol

    I very much liked Garanca in this role last year, but am I the only one who (unexpectedly) really liked Borodina in this role a few years back? no Rossini specialist I suppose, but (unexpectedly) skillful with the runs and ornamentations, and (unexpectedly) very funny in comedy, and the voice, well it’s always been a sumptuous voice with plenty of character. . .

  • Bluessweet

    Sometimes I think that the anti-Garanca crowd is just put off by her beauty and fabulous figure. ((The Elina knockers don’t like her knockers?). Honest, she sings very well. I picked up on her only last year, having skipped the Cenerentola HD. I did so by seeing the Netrebko “Souvenirs” album. Fortunately, I got the enhanced edition, the one with the DVD. She cut poor Anna to shreds in the Barcarole duet. Vocally superior and visually very comfortable, while Trebs looked as if Henny Penny had given her the word and she was waiting for instantaneous disaster. I like Netrebko all right but Garanca was really all there and in control in a warm and relaxed way.

    Her HD Carmen was about perfect. For a singer, her dancing was quite competent, no matter what a professional dance critic might say. Her acting and the characterization she adopted were, to me, quite real. I’ve dated women like that (Not for a long duration, except once!)

    As far as acting ability and looks go for opera singers, well, why not demand them? We do on stage , in the cinema and on TV. (CerquettiFarrell- You tell us about that, if you please!) I was recently at a recital at the Academy of Vocal Arts and one of the performers, very lovely soprano, at the after performance Hors d’ Oeuvres, told me that in spite of training at one of the greatest schools in all the world and a reasonable performance resume, she had SO MUCH competition that she knew she would have to be able to produce what I would call a “signature” image or be very lucky. The woman had her summer booked at festivals and had been successful at regional Met auditions. With that kind of talent available, facing that kind of competition, why have a matronly Michaela in Carmen? (Did your mother come in person Don Jose?)

    On the other hand, there was carping about another of my favorites, Karita Mattila, as being too old to play Tosca but her MET Cavaradosi was an age match and nobody can say (or even imagine)that a singer of Tosca’s stature might not have some years under her belt. Old people can also be passionate lovers, take it from me!

    • I don’t see a very large anti-Elina crowd out there, possibly because contrarily to other current beauties (divette DDN) she can actually sing, and so far has not raised eyebrows in terms of repertoire choices. Now, if she really sings Amneris as she repeatedly said she intends to do, then I am afraid it will be open season on her.
      Yes, she is truly hyped, but in her case her talent is large enough that her publicists and handlers don’t have to put perfume on a stinking bomb (I like this phrase. I read it recently referred to Gustavo Dudamel).

    • MontyNostry

      Does anyone feel strongly enough about her to be fervently anti-Garanca? She’s very pretty, very well-schooled and highly efficient, as far as I can tell, but not an artist to fall in love (or hate) with.

      I’ve only seen her live once, in concert with the Concertgebouw and Janssons, and she didn’t exactly capture my imagination. Funnily enough, I did feel that the voice has the potential to grow into Amneris or Eboli, but I don’t see her temperament setting Egypt or Spain alight.

      • Liana

        My feelings exactly. I think she’s a very good singer, but not a great artist. I saw her live once, saw both HDs, and every time it was just that -- very good, nothing more. It’s nice to listen to a singer hitting all the notes, but somehow, afterwards I never have a feeling “that was fantastic, I’d really like to see it again”. And watching the HDs, I had the impression that she never really inhabits the character, rather very consciously plays it. Nice to hear, beautiful to watch, just boring.

    • perfidia

      Opera is not the cinema or TV, or even the straight stage. It does benefit from these art forms, but it should never adopt their sensibilities (especially those of TV. Talk about suspension of disbelief). Fortunately for the lookists the state of training if so dismal today, and the industry is so geared towards looks, that the exceptional voices that can challenge people to listen a little less with their eyes are not likely to come around. I have a feeling Horne would have never been able to make a career today. Too zaftig. And yet the woman could be a riot on stage. They would have to pry my DVD of her Isabella from my dead cold hands. Good looks help acting, but talent is all that counts in the end. If a singer sings with authority and insight, and has reasonable acting skills, I am more than willing to overlook his/her looks. Am I the only one who loves the pictures of fat Callas with arms like hams in “Norma”? She looks like a caryatid that could have Netrebko and Garanca for lunch, but I am sure it was dynamite on stage.

  • traumgekront

    I also felt that during the Carmen HD, which I saw twice, that Garanca didn’t completely inhabit the character, but on the other hand there were several moments that did convince me that I actually was watching a Spanish gypsy blessed with some recessive genetic makeup that allowed her to have blue eyes. I thought she rocked it. Mostly though, her fault in this role was her elegance. Which makes me curious to see her in Strauss. Does anyone know if there is a dvd out there somewhere of her Vienna Rosenkavalier?

    Another thing is that she’d DEF have to wait awhile before she does Amneris. I’d love to see what she’d do with it, even though I think her portrayal would make the totally unbelievable story that is Aida become even more unbelievable just because Radames would be nuts to ditch a knockout like her.

    • MontyNostry

      She wouldn’t be the first glamorous Amneris. Gals like Bumbry, Verrett, Thebom (who I assume sang the role — with her hair down, of course) and Obraztsova weren’t exactly short of physical appeal.

      In the flesh, Garanca’s voice actually sounded surprisingly blowsy to me. Not loose, but not as classy as I had expected.

      • Nerva Nelli

        Thebom ( …ya know…) in fact sang 80 Met Amnerii — after Louise Homer, with 97 to her credit, more than anyone else has done. Zajick has 71 so far and is set for three more this season…

    • traumgekront

      Scusate, Ercole Farnese, I just realized this was your review. Ben scritto :)

    • Bill

      Probably there is no DVDs of Garanca’s Vienna Oktavians yet as she sang in regular repertory performances there.

    • Noel Dahling

      Aida “totally unbelievable”? I would think it is relatively beleivable, espescially compared to other opera plots. There aren’t all those crazy coincidents of a Forza, for example, with people who are trying their darndest to not run into eachother acros Sapin, yet somehow cant avoid one another.

      • MontyNostry

        It seems to be fashionable at the moment to suggest that Aida somehow isn’t a very viable piece — this is probably a knock-on from the fact that there are: i) very few singers around who can deliver the required combo of power, beauty and delicacy and ii) very few directors who can negotiate its combo of formal spectacle and more naturalist intimacy. As I’ve said before on this site, Act III of Aida is surely one of THE great acts in all opera. I love the piece, and the final scene is genuinely moving.

  • traumgekront

    I’d never heard of Blanche Thebom so I googled her and all I have to say is WOW. She’s like the epitome of glamor. Now scouring youtube for clips…

    • Nerva Nelli

      …. ya know…”

      • MontyNostry


        • traumgekront



        “Thank you” to Nerva Nelly

  • MontyNostry

    Did Blanche ever sing Ortrud? If so, who took the role of the Hairrufer?

    • Nerva Nelli

      In 1950 Thebom sang 2 house Met Ortruds with Melchior (including his farewell) and 2 on tour with Svanholm.

      The Herrufer was Frank Guarrera, hardly the hairdresser type.

  • Dawson

    Well written. Truly. La Cieca has found a true belcanto connoisseur. My only disagreement is that I dislike the production. Perhaps Garanca could sing Aida in a very small European opera house, and not in the very near future. In any case she is already a major star. Brownlee is very good singer, but I want to hear him only in recordings. On stage he is way too gawkish, almost painful to look at, and Juan Diego so elegant and graceful. No wonder he gets the best gigs, and Browlee is going to get whatever Juan Diego can’t or doesn’t want to accept.

    • sterlingkay

      I don’t know if this will make any difference in terms of his stage presence but I am told that after seeing himself on the HD, Brownlee decided to drop some weight and looks much better now.

  • traumgekront

    Only kind of off topic: I just saw a commercial for a nasal spray called “Omneris.”

  • Krunoslav

    “It took the Metropolitan Opera decades to catch up with the rest of the world and finally stage La Cenerentola. Gioachino Rossini’s opera buffa”

    Meanwhile New York City Opera was doing it from 1951 on, often with Frances (“Dyke, ya know!”) Bible. Later Angelinas included Susanne Marsee and Judith Forst.