La Cenerentola in Leeds

La Cenerentola is without doubt my favourite Rossini opera. It may not have the brilliant arias of the Barber but its perky ensembles are unrivalled. The score requires plenty of zing, but also poise, humour and, at points, tenderness. Wyn Davies, the conductor for the current Opera North performances and an expert in this repertory, provided all this and more. Aletta Collins’ production, along with Giles Cadle’s designs and Gabrielle Dalton’s costumes, was beautifully conceived. Comedy was to the fore, but it was never exaggerated or vulgar; and there were some lovely moments to bring out the personalities of the protagonists, for example, Ramiro holding out the pan for Cinderella’s broom. Then, near the end, as she approaches the bowler-hatted Alidoro, uncertain how to thank him, a philosopher, for his interventions, she spontaneously succumbs to the need to embrace him.

A renowned choreographer as well as a stage director, Collins had the bright idea of setting the piece partly in a dance school run by Don Magnifico. This enabled the piece to get off to a charming start as he takes the two ugly sisters through their steps in preparation for the anticipated elevation on the social ladder; and to end with a touching scene in which Cinderella and her Prince celebrate their union with a pas de deux.  And, throughout, dramatic episodes were expressed through stylised movement. Of course this meant that the principals had all to be agile on the stage – and they were, not least Henry Waddington who as a plump Magnifico impressed with his nimble antics.

In the title role, the Canadian Wallis Giunta captivated the audience as she ran the gamut of emotions, from forlorn hopelessness through wide-eyed amazement to compassionate fulfilment. And she sang gloriously with warmth in the lower register and full-throated lyrical outbursts at the top. The other soloists were not in the same class musically but they all contributed to the success of the evening with sparky, joyful performances. A word of praise, finally, for the male chorus whose robust singing and impersonation of the zany playboy friends of the Prince added to the pleasure.