When you have an impressively supple orchestra such as the one in the Vienna State Opera, a conductor must feel tempted to pull all the stops. Therefore, I understand Michael Güttler’s inclination to make it fast and loud and exciting – and the outpouring of glittering, transparent and clear sounds from the pit were indeed a pleasure in itself. I doubt that someone might be able to listen to Rossini’s score more adeptly played than this evening. But then there are singers on stage too – and we must certainly consider them in bel canto repertoire. In the program book, we read that, when the new opera house by the Kärntner Straße was opened in 1869, there were doubts if works like La Cenerentola could be performed there, because “only a few singers were able to fill the large hall with their voices”. Precisely. Although the Vienna State Opera does not have a huge auditorium for today’s standards, it is still large enough and the orchestral sound can be overwhelming, as this evening. The first time I’ve heard La Cenerentola live, Olga Borodina sang the title role in the Metropolitan Opera House. Then I wrote ” Although her manners are a bit grand for poor-thing Cinderella, listening to such an exquisite opulent voice move so gracefully through Rossinian phrases is something every admirer of bel canto should do. Rarely has the triumph of goodness sounded as triumphant as in the crowning glory of the Russian mezzo’s rendition of the closing scene”. I could not help thinking of that performance this evening, when singers were in such disadvantage. Part of me wished that the orchestra could be a little bit more discrete to accommodate the cast, but ultimately I wished that singers such as the young Borodina could be found to make it all really exciting.
Vivica Genaux is no Borodina. Her lean mezzo soprano has limited volume, but a bright edge makes it hearable, especially in its lower end. The problem is that the part of Angelina often confines her to areas of her voice when she could not really pierce through a formidable orchestra. To make things a little bit more problematic, her high notes were not truly there this evening. Her impressive control of fast divisions helped her to distract the audience from that problem, but the variations offered in the final scene could not replace the climactic high notes Rossini expected his audiences to hear. In any case, her coloratura is indeed very exciting and could keep you in the edge of your seat in the prevailing fast tempi. Her Prince Charming, Dmitry Korchak, couldn’t help smearing a bit his runs under the circumstances. His voice is rounder, more natural and stronger-centered than most tenors in this repertoire – and his high notes are refreshingly forceful and firm. One could see that producing graceful, gentle phrasing requires great concentration from him, and I wonder how long he will resist moving to lighter lyric roles (and eventually to full lyric parts). If Nicolay Borchev’s baritone is a bit thick and dark for Italian roles, he is more faithful to his fioriture than many a singer in the role of Dandini. He is unexaggeratedly funny and has good pronunciation. The only Italian in the cast, Paolo Rumetz, offered an unexaggerated performance as well as Don Magnifico, but there were too many moments of inaudibility for comfort. Although Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s voice is a bit light for Alidoro, he sang forcefully and stylishly. Both singers cast as Tisbe and Clorinda needed more focused voice to be heard in ensembles.
Sven-Eric Bechtholf sets the action in the 1950’s and keeps everything extremely busy and frantic. Sometimes, during important arias, parallel action takes place in the background for laughs, what is a bit disrespectful both for the composer and the musicians performing his music. At first, the action suggested something Fellini-ian and that seemed promising, but then the whole thing started to get frankly silly à la Roberto Benigni: Alidoro is here some sort of flirtatious Don Alfonso with some supernatural powers (whereas Rossini precisely asks the opposite of that), the Prince has a Freudian thing with sport cars and all the scenes in the palace take place in his garage – banquet and wedding included. Characters who are supposed not to hear something are often in places where they would have to be deaf not to hear that; sometimes they are placed in a way that collides with the situation described in the libretto, making for awkward maneuvers to get character X quickly in position B etc. In the end, I had the impression that the director does not truly believe in this opera and decided that his helping hand would make it better. Well, the long change of sets certainly made it lenghtier.