CINDERELLA review LEEDS GRAND
Leeds Grand Theatre
by Sandra Callard
Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola, or Cinderella in English, is such a famous fairy story that it is almost impossible to bring anything new to it. Opera North have done it, however, as they open with the third opera in their trilogy of fairy tales.
Angelina is a downtrodden girl who cleans the dance studio of her very nasty step-father. Angelina is played and sung by Wallis Giunta in a terrific mezzo-soprano. This is unusual for a leading lady, but very impressive here. The wicked step-mother has vanished, and the wicked step-father, Don Magnifico, takes her place. He has two daughters, and uses his step-daughter as a skivvy.
Don Magnifico is sung in a splendidly resounding baritone by Henry Waddington. But he is just too funny for us to hate him. The two eldest children, the famous ‘ugly sisters’ are magnificently played and sung by Sky Ingram as Clorinda and Amy J. Payne as Tisbe. They are perfect in the roles, one tall and thin, the other small and wide. They are nasty to their step-sister, Angelina, known as Cinderella, which means cinder-girl.
This is how ugly sisters should be. They are set on marrying the Prince, both convinced that they are the most beautiful girls in the land. The Prince Ramiro, sung in a glorious tenor by Sunnyboy Dladla, (the name itself inspires joy) interviews every eligible girl in the country, and finally chooses the poor and lowly Cinderella for her goodness of heart, proven by her giving a passing tramp a drink of coffee and some food.
The tramp is really Alidoro, the Prince’s tutor, who is trying to find a girl who is pure at heart and not in it for the kudos of marrying a prince. He reports back to the Prince, who falls in love with Angelina, and that is a good chunk of the old story we all know and love, (except for Alidoro).
There are variations however in this production. As said above, there is a wicked step-father, not step-mother; there is no glass slipper, but two identical bracelets, no coach to take Cinderella to the ball, and no fairy god-mother. Cinderella wears one bracelet and the Prince finds the other and matches it up. She gets to the ball under her own steam, and the good-natured Alidoro brings her a dress for the ball, so dispensing with the fairy god-mother.
This is all well and good, and quite acceptable, but what is wrong with the original story? I always quite liked the wicked step-mother, a proper clichéd role to play, the glass slipper is everlastingly romantic, and who but a fairy god-mother should get her a beautiful dress and a coach to take her to the ball.
The full glory of this production is in Rossini’s complicated score, which is massively challenging for the singers. It is unusual, as it skitters about and changes speed and tone continually. Cinderella’s difficult aria by Giunta is a triumph which brings the house down.
One innovation which I particularly like is the eighteen-strong chorus of men, who look like workmen, accountants, office workers or policemen, in fact just like anybody else. They march on confidently and own the stage as they give superb backing to the singers.
This is an unusual telling of an old tale, and works well for the majority of the show. I love the ugly sisters’ fantastic costumes, diametrically opposed to Cinderella’s modern jeans and shirt; odd but it still looks good. There are short snatches of boredom, as highlighted by the elderly lady next me who snores gently throughout. But nevertheless this is an enjoyable, funny and uplifting production.
images: Alastair Muir