La Cenerentola (Opera Holland Park)
Rossini's most charming opera is perfect fare on a warm summer's night
After the tragedies of Iris and La bohème, not to mention the temporary installation of our ex-prime minister in the neighbourhood, at least we can expect phase two of the 2016 Opera Holland Park season to be unbroken fun. Up soon are Die Fledermaus and the return of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; first, though, don't miss this.
La Cenerentola is Cinderella without the magic, so forget the fairy godmother. You can whistle for a pumpkin or a glass slipper; instead Rossini gives us a people's Perrault, with Cinders (or Cenerentola, or indeed Angelina) kept in grinding servitude by horrid old Don Magnifico and his two daughters.
Yes, the ugly sisters survive the cull, and there's a handsome prince too, plus a valet called Dandini. It all works pretty well as a human drama, although the absence of midnight chimes makes a nonsense of our heroine's sudden departure from the ball.
If it's magic you're after, though, Rossini's score is stuffed full of it. What a blissful opera La Cenerentola is: a true romance that's flavoured with buffo fun for the bad guys and some gorgeous arias for its leading lady (here the splendid mezzo Victoria Simmonds) and her princely suitor, Don Ramiro (Nico Darmanin, who negotiates the pinging high notes with ease).
'Sharply defined comic nastiness'
At OHP it's Jonathan Veira who steals the show as a Don Magnifico who sings dead-centre of every acrobatic note, even as he scuttles around his palazzo (a neat composite set by Neil Irish) and flashes hyperactive eyes that threaten to pop out of his head.
Not everyone is quite as pitch-perfect, but then this is a devilish score to deliver. With a City of London Sinfonia on top form, the youthful conductor Dane Lam takes no prisoners with his brisk tempo choices. He puts Rossini first, quite rightly, and from the sparkling overture onwards the evening fizzes by.
It's distracting that Lam uses an electronic piano as continuo rather than the harpsichord that Alberto Zedda, whose critical edition of La Cenerentola this is, prefers on his own recording, but it integrates with the texture less objectionably than you might think. As for Oliver Platt's unfussy direction, it has moments of inspiration and plenty of wit but there are a few passages where I wished he'd had another crack at the staging—not least the ball scene in which the heroine's first appearance is all but hidden by the splendid chorus.
Nevertheless, bass-baritone Barnaby Rea is an imposing Alidoro, the enigmatic tutor who sets our heroine on her way, while Nicholas Lester, back in harness with Darmanin (his mucker from The Barber of Seville, both here in 2014 and for WNO earlier this year) is stylish, characterful and musically first-rate as Dandini. Add some sharply defined comic nastiness from Fleur de Bray and Heather Lowe as the sisters, and what's not to love on a warm summer evening?
Rossini's La Cenerentola runs in repertory at Opera Holland Park until 30 July