I’ve admired Aletta Collins’ work as a director for Opera North (Girl of the Golden West) and choreographer for Rambert (Awakenings) before, and with this production of Rossini’s Cinderella opera she has given Opera North a gem of a comedy.
It’s all about dancing, in her book: we find the ‘Baron Hardup’ of the story (Don Magnifico, Cinderella’s step-father) runs a Scuola di Danza at the start, with the mums sitting in a line at the side of the floor while their little ones practise their cha-cha-cha.
The Nasty (rather than Ugly, here) Sisters think they’re better dancers than her, but we pretty soon realize she’s a lovely mover and they are not.
There’s no fairy godmother in Ferretti and Rossini’s version, but a court philosopher called Alidoro, and he is the one to whom Cinderella shows kindness when he knocks at the door, disguised as a beggar. He ensures she shall go to the ball, but not before she’s actually met the prince, who has changed jackets with Dandini, his valet, the better to spy out the true nature of the girls in Magnifico’s household. The disguise is kept up through the ball scene, and only when the glammed-up Cinders has confessed she loves him as a man of lowly estate does he reveal his true identity.
She’s a feisty girl, though, and won’t say who she is, leaving the ball quite deliberately and giving the prince a bracelet to match to one of her own. Of course he seeks her out, rejects the advances of the Sisters and their father (who just won’t give up), and takes her back to the palace, where she finally wins their hard hearts through magnanimity, and all dance happily ever after.
It’s set in a kind of present-day Italy, but in a fantasy world where dreams come true (restrained and effective use of back-of-the-stage projection), and the sets (Giles Cadle) and costumes (Gabrielle Dalton) are ingenious and useful – especially to get the large Opera North men’s chorus on and off.
The music is beautifully light on its feet, under Wyn Davies’s baton. He goes for the very edge of practicality in his speeds for the patter movements, but even in The Lowry’s stage acoustic it all stays together (just!), the staccato ‘ensembles of stupefaction’ (of which this has several priceless examples) are razor-sharp, and rhythms dance along.
We had a lovely Angelina (=Cinderella) in Wallis Giunta – the warmth of her voice was apparent from the opening Una volta c'era un rè – and it’s a taxing role, but one which she sang with grace and endless energy, along with an eye for the comedy.
Henry Waddington (RNCM-trained) has done excellent work for Opera North before, but never had quite the opportunity to show his comic talents as here as Don Magnifico, and his voice was very impressive in Sia qualunque delle figlie. Sunnyboy Dladla (the prince) has a gloriously pure tenor tone which fits the character (and he can dance) – maybe the very high notes didn’t have Flórez-like power, but not many singers can do them at all. Sky Ingram and Amy J Payne, as the Sisters, were a hoot and sang strongly, too, and John Savournin (Alidoro) and Quirijn de Lang (Dandini) completed a very well chosen cast.