CenerentolaGioachino Rossini - La Cenerentola

RAI Television, 2012 | Carlo Verdone, Gianluigi Gelmetti, Lena Belkina, Edgardo Rocha, Anna Kasyan, Annunziata Vestri, Carlo Lepore, Simone Alberghini, Lorenzo Regazzo | BBC Television

La Cenerentola is the latest production from Andrea Andermann, who every year provides Italian television and the world with an ambitious live performance of a popular Italian opera, shot in the actual locations and at the times specified in the libretto, and broadcast live as it is filmed for television. With operas like Tosca and Rigoletto (the latter in particular spectacularly filmed in and around the Ducal Palace in Mantua two years ago), there is an element of the works that is enhanced to some extent by being able to view them in their exact historical locations - locations that also happen to look quite stunning. But Rossini’s version of the Cinderella story, La Cenerentola? Well, you can see the problem. How can a fairytale possibly benefit from or even be enhanced by the kind of realism that goes into an Andrea Andermann production?

The notion of setting it in Turin has more to it than helping spread around the benefits that an Andermann production gives to the Italian tourist industry. Turin is traditionally the home of the Italian Royal family, and since Cinderella’s marriage to a Prince is a central part of the work, there is some merit and justification in the choice. It doesn’t take you long past the opening titles - the Overture at least pleasantly animated to give Cinderella a background that leads to her being an orphan now with a stepfather and stepsisters - to get the feeling however that the whole production is fundamentally misconceived. Setting Don Magnifico’s baronial mansion of Act I under harsh overly bright studio lighting for television viewing makes it look neither fairytale-like nor realistic. There are no dark chimney corners, no opulent rooms - it just looks like a studio set with cheap stage costumes and operatic acting. There is some benefit in how it allows the camera to flow along with the action outside the house into the garden for the arrival of the Prince, but otherwise, the opera style seems out of place in its “actual location” surroundings.

More than that, taking La Cenerentola away from the stage actually diminishes the work and reduces the magic of the opera’s wonderful centrepiece scenes - the transformation of Cinderella and the coach journeys. Here, in a live setting and in real locations, those scenes can only be done through the animation framing sequences that are inserted periodically to link scenes and acts. Again, one can’t help feel that introducing realism to La Cenerentola somewhat defeats the purpose of the work, but it doesn’t even have the benefit of theatrical “magic” either. Attempts to add some of that sparkle back in through the sprinkling of “magic dust” and kaleidoscopic effects added in post-production doesn’t really make up for what is missing here, and it actually comes across as quite kitsch instead. To its credit, the ballroom scenes filmed in a palace are every bit as spectacular as you would imagine, and much better than anything that could be achieved on the stage.

If the live on-location idea is misconceived for Cinderella, Rossini’s work is magical enough to work on its own terms - severely cut though it is here to fit television schedules - and fortunately that’s the saving grace of this production. Latvian mezzo-soprano Lena Belkina proved to be very pleasing to the eyes and the ears with a classic dark beauty of Anna Netrebko and even a similarity in appearance with Maria Callas. She doesn’t really have the depth, the power or the richness of voice of those singers, or even the fullness of tone and expression that Cecilia Bartoli, for example, has brought to this particular role - but she is well suited to this slightly lighter (lightweight?) production of a Rossini work that should be played with delicacy of tone and bright wit.

Unfortunately, quite aside from the live and on-location issues, the direction of Gianluigi Gelmetti doesn’t really exploit the comic brilliance of the work. As well sung as the roles of Cinderella and Don Ramiro are, neither Belkina nor Edgardo Rocha are given enough to do, and their characters come over as rather bland. Even Thisbe and Clorinda, the ugly step-sisters, aren’t fully developed here or used to the advantages that Anna Kasyan and Annunziata Vestri are vocally and dramatically capable of bringing to the roles. Only Carlo Lepore’s Don Magnifico comes across with the requisite strength of character and voice that lifts the dynamic of the production above the merely functional.

There’s no particular flair to the filming either this time around. With Rigoletto in 2010 we had direction and cinematography by filmmakers as renowned as Marco Bellochio and Vittorio Storaro, but La Cenerentola has no such distinction. There’s an attempt to bring some visual character by involving a ball of yarn to the “tangled knot” revelation scene, but by and large the direction is rather leaden, and never manages to bring the work to life or match the dazzling wit and sparkling nature of Rossini’s music. It’s a made-for-TV La Cenerentola, nothing more, that sadly has little to do with Rossini or real opera.