, February 2010
Michael Hampe seems to have been the director of choice in the 1980s for tastefully traditional Rossini productions.
A series of DVDs devoted to Hampe’s stagings of minor Rossini works has been available for awhile: La Scala di Seta, Il Signor Bruschino, for example. Those productions hailed from a small but lovely theater. Now ArtHaus Musik releases what must have been a career highpoint for Hampe—his production of La Cenerentola from the Salzburg Festival, 1982. With the handsome but monochromatic sets and costumes of Mauro Pagano, Hampe stages La Cenerentola as a fairly naturalistic, slightly somber fairy tale. Only in the usual Rossini storm scene, when Don Ramiro races his horse-drawn carriage to claim his princess, does Hampe allow a broader stroke. Machine-driven wind blows the hats off the riders and the legs of the carousel horses swing wildly. The audience breaks out into sustained applause, perhaps desperate at that point for some visual excitement.
After all, La Cenerentola (with libretto by Jacopo Ferretti) takes two and a half hours to tell its familiar tale. This version differs in many details from the familiar “Disney”–ized confection most Americans know, but suspense is out of the question. Although Rossini’s score doesn’t boast the melodic richness of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, beautiful and enjoyable moments come around, with the best saved for last—the aria for the tenor that Rossini had dropped from Barbiere (Juan Diego Florez likes to include it these days) and re-wrote for his Angelina: “Non piu mesta.” Hampe’s approach has undeniable style and grace, but it isn’t much fun. In the end, with a story as slight as this, a little questionable taste would go a long way toward making the length of the opera less noticeable.
Walter Berry, nearing the end of a remarkable career, utilizes his worn but intelligent vocal skills effectively as Don Magnifico, and Gino Quilico makes for a gruff but appealing Dandini. As the two stepsisters, Angela Denning and Daphne Evangelatos don’t camp it up much, in keeping with Hampe’s dictates, with the result that they don’t make much of an impression.
Ann Murray and Francisco Araiza are well-matched as the romantic leads, for both good and bad. On the positive side, they are skilled, pleasant professionals, who know bel canto and can meet each role’s vocal requirements. Both are also able enough stage performers, moving and emoting with naturalness. Murray does better by the put-upon Angelina. In an effort to be gentlemanly, your reviewer will just say that designer Pagano does what he can to make her an appealing fairy tale princess. Araiza pulls off his transformation from servant to prince, but a blandness in his vocal delivery keeps him from total success. Neither lead has that extra factor that makes a performer riveting, fascinating. In the muted colors of Hampe’s staging, they both blend into the surroundings.
Riccardo Chailly later conducted a studio recording of this opera with Cecilia Bartoli, and the sharpness and detail of that performance is already established here, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, no less.
Recent productions of La Cenerentola tend to be colorful, even cartoonish affairs, and a more subtle staging such as Hampe’s might be seen by some as an antidote for that sort of over-the-top theatricality. It’s all a matter of taste, but a little more star wattage would have made this Salzburg production much more memorable.