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Performances

31 Jul 2019

Rossini’s La Cenerentola at West Green House Opera

The enchanting grounds of West Green House in the heart of rural Hampshire offer the ideal venue for Rossini’s fairy-tale-based opera, La Cenerentola. Glass side panels bring the 400-seater auditorium’s leafy surroundings a little closer and heighten the impact of a derelict Renault and no less shabby looking Land Rover that front the stage with a boldness redolent of Banksy’s ‘Monet with Shopping Trolley’.

Rossini’s La Cenerentola at West Green House Opera

A review by David Truslove

Above: Heather Lowe (Cinderella)

All images courtesy of West Green House Opera

 

Making the best of limited stage facilities, Richard Studer shrewdly adopts a one-size-fits-all design which neatly amplifies the contrasting fortunes of, and social distinctions between Don Magnifico and his daughters and Prince Ramiro, his tutor and valet who, together, shape over two hours of comic interaction, the whole given slick, clear-sighted direction by Victoria Newlyn.

This new production manages not just to point up clear-cut class difference outlined by Jacopo Ferretti’s libretti (drawn from Charles Perrault’s tale Cendrillon) but wittily brings into focus unfulfilled social aspirations notwithstanding the central rags to riches narrative of Cinderella. We meet her stepfather Don Magnifico near the beginning of Act One emerging sleepily from his abandoned car around which his loutish daughters Clorinda and Tisbe torment Cinderella with cooking and cleaning chores. An image of the family’s former home is shown backstage, so too a palatial residence but, owing to limited resources, any lavish ballroom scene is left largely to our imaginations - as are the voices of the Chorus which arrive pre-recorded.

WGHO La Cen.pngSioned Gwen Davies (Tisbe), Heather Lowe (Cinderella) and Zoe Drummond (Clorinda)

Rather than being short-changed by this specially tailored staging (along with Jonathan Lyness’s slimmed-down orchestral score) this made-to-measure version emphasises with potent immediacy the personal relationships of a cast of seven who, mostly at the start of their careers, provide strongly defined performances. Leading the young team, Heather Lowe made a wholly sympathetic Cinderella, no lily-livered personality here but a spirited young woman burdened by her lot without being entirely submissive to it. Vocally she was a joy to listen to, assured from her first folk-like ballad through to her enraptured final aria. On the way she combined an easy command of the role’s extended tessitura with a vocal agility that made room for plenty of expression no more so than her pleas to attend the prince’s ball. Hers was a voice that dispatched her multitudinous notes with an effortless facility, yet always placing technique at the service of the music.

Cinderella and Prince.jpgHeather Lowe (Cinderella) and Filipe Manu (Ramiro).

She fashioned a believable partnership with New Zealand-Tongan Filipe Manu as the urbane Ramiro whose pleasing lyric tenor made light work of Rossini’s vocal demands, though his stage movement didn’t always convince in his dual roles as servant and prince. That said there was much to admire in his collaboration with Nicholas Mogg’s flamboyant Dandini attired in kilt and mismatching socks, and clearly revelling in his comic creation. Possessed with a clear, well projected voice, Mogg consistently held the ear and eye. His will be a name to watch out for.

Quartet La Cenerentola.jpgMatthew Stiff (Don Magnifico), Filipe Manu (Ramiro), Blaise Malaba (Alidoro) and Nicholas Mogg (Dandini).

Matthew Stiff also had stage presence as Don Magnifico, a role both comic and cruel, and sung here with a vocal warmth that brought plenty of appeal to his ‘used-car salesman’ characterisation. His daughters, Zoe Drummond’s Clorinda and Sioned Gwen Davies as Tisbe, were superb as bickering siblings; to the manor born as chavvy teenagers whose attempts to win the hand of Ramiro made for some truly cringe-making moments - a compelling coupling. Finally, there was the sobering presence and rich tones of the young Congolese bass Blaise Malaba.

Cast of C at WGOH.jpgCast of La Cenerentola at West Green House Opera.

Some of the most impressive musicianship came from the ensemble numbers where meticulous rehearsal paid off in assured performances occasionally supported by cheesy dance movement. Not exactly ‘Strictly’, but the disco-influenced routines were all part of this fun-filled evening. Giving support to those above stage was the West Green House Opera Orchestra skilfully directed by Matthew Kofi-Waldron. He secured stylish playing throughout and steered well-judged tempi that brought buoyancy and plenty of excitement without compromising ensemble. Altogether, a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

David Truslove

Cinderella (Angelina) - Heather Lowe, Ramiro - Filip Manu, Dandini - Nicholas Mogg, Don Magnifico - Matthew Stiff, Clorinda - Zoe Drummond, Tisbe - Sioned Gwen Davies, Alidoro - Blaise Malaba; Director - Victoria Newlyn, Conductor - Matthew Kofi-Waldren, Designer - Richard Studer, Lighting - Sarah Bath, West Green House Opera Orchestra.

West Green House Opera, Hook, Hampshire; Saturday 27th July 2019.

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