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Chris Mullins
Opera Today, 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.

Michael Mark
American Record Guide, November 2009

Give this sweet, moving performance a try.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

David L. Kirk
Fanfare, November 2009

Even though Rossini tried to distance the work from being an operatic fairy tale, some stage directors and scene/costume designers have endeavored to plant the work firmly in the land of Once Upon a Time. This 1982 Salzburg production is not one of them. Director Michael Hampe follows Rossini’s intentions and makes this a morality tale emphasizing various aspects of the human condition. Angelina is sweet natured and sadly resigned to her plight, the stepsisters are not ugly caricatures, but two vain and selfish women, and there’s no attempt to add a comic luster to Don Magnifico. In this production, he is rather smarmy and hopes to better his lot in life by finding rich husbands for his daughters. The scenery is basically wing and drop, decorated to reflect honestly Magnifico’s threadbare mansion and Don Ramiro’s marble and chandeliered palace. The music sparkles, the singing is in good hands, the acting is credible, and Hampe’s direction is straightforward and unaffected. This is a Cenerentola that is mercifully free of the artsy-fartsy updating that seems to afflict more and more opera productions. One of the visual highlights of this staging is the deft handling of the storm scene in act II. Shown largely in silhouette, Don Ramiro is riding in a horse-drawn coach, Dandini holding on for dear life as they hurry through a nighttime storm. The wind is blowing, the coach is bouncing, the horse is galloping, hats blow off—it’s great theater!

Ann Murray is a wonderful Angelina. She is so credible as poor Cinderella that you can’t help but feel happy for her when she marries the handsome prince. The comic relief is the prince’s manservant, Dandini, who gets to play Prince for a Day by switching identities with the real prince, Ramiro. Gino Quilico does not approach the role of Dandini as comic buffoon, but rather as a spritely young man who would like to better his station in life and who savors every minute of being the prince. Francisco Araiza shows the proper amount of mild irritation when Dandini oversteps his bounds, and is convincing as the Prince looking for someone to love him for himself and not for his title. Angela Denning and Daphne Evangelatos walk a fine line playing the stepsisters to show us the vanity without becoming objectionable. If they are callous towards Angelina, it’s not because they’re mean—just two self-absorbed women more interested in themselves than in other people. The only characterization that I felt was not quite right was Walter Berry’s Don Magnifico. Berry doesn’t have the right kind of comic swagger to make Don Magnifico likable.

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