As the curtain rises, a feeling of joy and curiosity sweeps over the audience. They have gone to see a show by the Welsh National Opera, and tonight for many, like myself, this may be their first time seeing a live opera. Not knowing what to expect, other than highly technical singing in Italian, I am surprised that my inner child is resurfaced in such a context. La Cenerentola, one of WNO’s three shows at Venue Cymru, Llandudno, brings a sense of fun and relaxed exposition onstage along with skillful vocal craft, in Italian composer Gioachino Rossini’s version of Cinderella.
In the first few seconds, we see large, colourful areas carve out the interior of a two-story house. Around the stage area, mice are tending to themselves. They are no ordinary mice: they are the chorus, largely responsible for set changes and storytelling between scenes, and they are positively striking. It has hardly been half a minute, and the audience is laughing at the quirky, grey costumes of the giant mice, who strut their bottoms and drag behind plump long tails. Tending to themselves and sniffling away, they create a truly playful, warm and welcoming feeling even before the first notes are sung.
But when the first notes emerge, they create an instant impression. Over the two acts, Tara Erraugh as Angelina (Cinderella) provides us with a well-pronounced, velvety mezzosoprano that glides effortlessly along with the exceptional live orchestra (Music Direction by Tomáš Hanus). She is also interestingly the only character that interacts with the chorus mice, who help with chores and seek her affection.
The servant simplicity of Cinderella in the “candy-coloured world of fairy tale” (WNO) feels classical, holistic and right.
Against Erraugh, the two meddling stepsisters Clorinda and Tisbe (Aoife Miskelly and Heather Lowe) provide playful, energetic comedy. The pair’s physical acting is personal, distinct and yet highly complimenting each other. Their vocal efforts, both of soprano range, are impressive and able to express magnificent comedy and personality in what feel like the quickest-running notes I have ever heard.
Bringing in classical, pantomime style feel are the opera’s friendly duo, the prince Don Ramiro (Matteo Macchioni) and Dandini (Giorgio Caoduro). In a classic identity swap story, Macchioni’s Prince provides the opera with a wonderful romantic presence with Cinderella and a tenor that shines brightly in many duets and solos including the famous “Si, ritrovarla io giuro” in Act 2. Against the prince, Caoduro’s Dandini is as hilarious as he is vocally skillful, becoming the audience favourite in chuckles heard across the auditorium as he tackles many bubbly pieces, most notably energetic aria “Come un’ape ne’ giorni d’aprile”.
Other memorable elements of La Cenerentola include Fabio Capitanucci’s performance as Don Magnifico, Cinderella’s stepfather, as well as the ensemble Valet group. Their scenes of 20-odd colourful Palace valets bring in wonderful, visually striking group songs and teary-eyed laughter, especially when interacting with Don Magnifico. Lastly, many scene transitions of the show are innovative, playful and fresh: for example, between a set change, the prince’s carriage on his way to Cinderella is presented by the mice as a small toy carriage rushing along the length of the stage.
One sad tale of La Cenerentola however, seems to be underplayed: many infamous scenes such as Cinderella’s transformation, and shoe-fitting scene (or in Rossini’s case, bracelet) are surprisingly understated. No lavish carriages or dresses appear during Cinderella’s transformation. Likewise, Cinderella and the Prince reunite in Act 2 in a very quick fashion. It feels almost like a missed opportunity – a chance for WNO to have played with the audience’s high expectations of these moments.
Overall, La Cenerentola by the Welsh National Opera is an uplifting, family-friendly show that wows with the talent of its cast and crew. While some famous scenes feel understated or simplified, the holistic experience brings child-like joy – and for people like myself, provides a gentle first introduction to the wonders of opera.