Welsh National Opera (WNO)
Each time the WNO bring their programme of opera to Bristol, I try to see one that I’ve never seen before. This time, it was Rossini’s La Cenerentola, a revival directed by Xevi Dorca with design by Joan Guillén.
I don’t know the music for this one, so I’m not going to go all Radio 3 about it and I’m simply going to call it Cinderella.
But this was an inventive and enchanting piece of work, set in a glorious fairytale world which felt a little like wandering into a flamboyant Wonderland.
Rossini’s familiar musical and literal wit rampaged through the score, which the WNO didn’t fail to embrace.
In Rossini’s version, we have a horrible stepfather instead of a stepmother, the Fairy Godmother is replaced by Alidoro, the Prince’s Tutor in disguise and Cinderella is recognised by the Prince with a matching bracelet.
As is fairly standard for comic opera, and the story of Cinderella fits well, there’s plenty of buffoonery, disguises and confusion. So much of this is beautifully delivered by Giorgio Caoduro as Dandini. Even his arrival on stage is wonderfully ludicrous as he springs up from a low piece of set on a double headed rainbow horse.
I don’t recall another recent opera I’ve seen which has utilised choreography and movement quite so effectively, yet in such an understated way.
An ensemble of plague-masked Mice, littered the stage throughout, both amusing and delighting the audience with their antics. I think one of the most memorable aspects of this production, should you do a random straw poll, would the Mice, yet they didn’t sing a single note.
Traditional theatre and storytelling techniques including shadow puppetry, an on-stage wind and thunder machine operated by the Mice, and a model of a coach and horses crashing on stage, again operated by laughing Mice gives dramatic moments a dreamy and off-kilter feeling. It sways us between being immersed in the story and being pushed out to passively view.
The dreamy feeling pervades to an unnatural level and in an echo to Cinderella’s opening aria and Don Magnifico’s dream, the world evaporates as the curtain falls. In the closing moments, Cinderella is left sweeping up the glitter confetti from her union with the Prince. It’s definitely a final What The Dickens moment in a performance in which you wouldn’t notice Bertie Bassett stroll across the stage. Retrospectively, the entire design had a distinctive Liquorice Allsorts vibe.
The design is superb. It’s classy panto style with both set and costumes working in perfect union. The audience took a collective intake of breath in appreciation at a mirrored set wall which descended from above and reflected the entire auditorium and orchestra on stage. It was beautiful. And right behind each mirrored panel was one of those ubiquitous Mice, ready to spin it into a giant flat of Don Ramiro’s rainbow carriage.
This was a great opera, the kind of thing the WNO do really well. Inventive and quirky, with class and style as well as embracing the purity of the original music.
Last night, I unexpectedly ended up taking my eleven-year-old son with me. As he has Aspergers and sensory processing difficulties which makes it almost impossible for him to sit still, so impossible he hasn’t even been to school for four weeks, I was braced for disaster. The disaster never came. He spent three hours completely captivated by the opera and I was stunned. “It was amazing,” he says “particularly the Mice.”
“I don’t know how they kept on going with the singing for so long. The costumes were also amazing, as well as the set. I loved the model horse and carriage the Mice brought on stage. And it was funny.”
I always say that opera is much more accessible and fun than its reputation, but even I underestimated my own child’s capacity to enjoy it right through to the end. The WNO always brings a fun one along each season, so if you’ve never been before look out for it and give it a go. In April 2019, it will be The Magic Flute.
The WNO will be performing La Traviata again this evening and will be back at The Bristol Hippodrome in April 2019 with Un Ballo In Maschera, The Magic Flute and Roberto Devereux.
For tickets, visit: www.atgtickets.com/Bristol
For more information about the WNO, visit: wno.org.uk