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The marvellous Italian mezzo Cecilia Bartoli produced and sang in this remarkable festive semi-staged performance of Rossini’s timeless comedy La Cenerentola. She started her career at the age of 19 with the music of Rossini and it is with this composer that her gifts are most closely allied. In particular her natural sense of comedy and breath-taking ease of coloratura across her whole range make her outstanding to watch and listen to in this comedy masterpiece.

For this return to the “patron” of her career she even founded her own ensemble, Les Musiciens du Prince, with Prince Albert of Monaco as patron. This recently formed baroque orchestra was placed back of stage with the men’s chorus of the Monte-Carlo opera to their right conducted by Gianluca Capuano. The singers in attractive period costume went about their antics across the front of the stage in what was a truly hilarious staging by Claudia Blersch based on the familiar fairy tale by Charles Perrault. It is in two acts with a libretto by Jacopo Ferretti composed when Rossini was 25 years old following the success of “The Barber of Seville” the year before.

Les Musiciens du Prince | Male choir of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo | Gianluca Capuano | Cecilia Bartoli © Peter Fischli/Lucerne Festival

In the Italian opera industry of the early 19th century things had to happen fast. Time was money, especially for composers, who in the absence of copyright protection got paid only once for their work: at the premiere. Composing four operas in one year – a new one every three months – was not extraordinary. But often things needed to go much faster as was the case for the opera that Rossini was contracted to write for Rome during the Carnival season of 1816/17. By the time he reached Rome from Naples he heard that his libretto was vetoed by the papal censor. The librettist proposed a long list of alternative topics, none of which pleased Rossini until he mentioned the idea of Cinderella at which Rossini immediately perked up. Composer and librettist got to work fast and completed the project in a record two weeks.

The vain Don Magnifico sung outstandingly by the buffo bass Carlos Chausson has given way to the pleasures of the flesh. He, his fickle daughters Clorinda and Tisbe, and Prince Ramiro’s servant Dandini, who must play the prince, all figures from commedia dell’arte– all bear names that have special significance. Magnifico’s title “Baron of Montefiascone” clues us in not only to the fiasco of this almost-bankrupt nobleman but also to his weakness for wine.

Les Musiciens du Prince | Male choir of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo | Gianluca Capuano | Cecilia Bartoli © Peter Fischli/Lucerne Festival

The sentimental lovers Angelina (Cinderella) and Ramiro belong to the genre of melodrama. The magician Alidoro represents the fairy tale world who stage directs so to speak, the happy ending.

From principals to supporting cast each role is cast from strength though it was clear from the start that Bartoli was first among equals. Her entrance canzonetta “Una volta c’era un re” (“Once upon a time there was a king”) had a beautiful legato with just the right tinge of resignation. Her rondo-finale closing number in four parts was a veritable tour de force. The prince Don Ramiro sung by Edgardo Rocha was also outstanding in his cantilena, coloratura and floated head voice and had a generous sprinkling of high notes although one misfired badly being just under the note made obvious by holding it too long. Alidoro was given the demanding three part aria sung well by Jose Coca.

Les Musiciens du Prince | Male choir of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo | Gianluca Capuano | Cecilia Bartoli © Peter Fischli/Lucerne Festival

The arias notwithstanding this opera needs expert timing and attention to effective singing in duos, trios etc. For example the famous sextet at the climax of the second act when the lovers recognise each other and Rossini set the octosyllabic verses (ottonari) to tongue-twisting explosive onomatopoeic syllables. On top of this Rossini sets part of this as a strict canon. This set the seal for the high level of communication between singers hypnotising the audience as well as the characters raising the level of absurdity to the level of happiness through joy. The audience went home happily singing and humming to themselves thus ending a glorious two weeks for me in the beautiful city of Lucerne.