There’s been a fair amount of discussion of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s film version of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito over at The Earworm so I thought it would be a good time to dig out his La Scala production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola. They have a lot in common; an obsession with statuary and heavy focus on verticality that makes the picture often seem taller than it is wide are just two. The Rossini, despite being filmed at La Scala is very filmic. It’s much more like a movie than a video recording of a staged performance.
It’s also very good indeed. I don’t expect much emotional depth from Rossini. Exquisite craftsmanship, tunes and utter professionalism, yes. Genuine depth of emotion not so much! This production though is genuinely affecting and I think that is a function of how Ponnelle has framed the action. Somehow Angelina and Don Ramiro occupy a still space at the centre of the action (metaphorically not literally) while the broad comedy of the sisters, Don Magnifico and Dandini orbits around them. Alidoro plays a sort of mediating role between the two worlds and even, at times, seems to symbolise a higher power. This is seen very clearly in the aria where Alidoro is explaining to Angelina that Heaven will take care of her. Alidoro transforms into a living statue of Rossini for this bit harking back to the overture where Ponnelle takes us on a statuary tour of the La Scala lobby. It’s weird but effective.
The action all, I think, takes place on the La Scala stage but without an audience. There are painted flats and screens and obviously ‘stagey’ things happen. That said, I don’t think Ponnelle is at all giving us the performance he would give a stage audience. He is directing for the camera and stage actions and camera work are co-ordinated to great effect. There are trademark Ponnelle elements to the cinematography; slow zoom outs, faces shot from a high angle, pop ups and quite a range of other camera tricks. But, as his wont, there is no suggestion of naturalism. The stage effects are stagey and the comic acting is broad; sometimes very broad.
The performances are all, at least, very good. Frederica von Stade is pretty much ideal as Angelina. She sings with a pure, not too dark, mezzo tone and has perfect control of the coloratura and the legato. She also absolutely looks the part. She’s gorgeous but in an unexotic, girl next door, sort of way but she glams up really well too, as in her veiled entrance at the ball. Francisco Araiza sings Don Ramiro. He’s also good in a bluff, perhaps too heroic, kind of way. His voice is quite dark and I found myself wishing for the brighter sound of a Juan Diego Florez or a Larry Brownlee. Paul Plishka is vocally and dramatically magnificent (as are his whiskers) as Alidoro. I think without a really effective portrayal of this role this production wouldn’t work. Plishka nails it.
The comedians; Margherita Guglielmo as Clorinda, Laura Zannini as Tisbe, Paolo Montarsolo as Don Magnifico and, above all, Claudio Desderi as Dandini are all very good. they sing stylishly when needed and comically when required. They are all excellent comic actors too well able to manage the broad farce in the comic sections that Ponnelle seems to want. The gentlemen of the La Scala chorus are also excellent. Presumably this production could afford the acting premium because they do plenty and they do it well. Claudio Abbado conducts and does fine but I’m not so sure about the orchestra. The strings sound quite shrill at the top end but whether this is the orchestra, the acoustic or the recording I really can’t tell.
Technically this recording does show it’s age. The picture is 1981 TV quality 4:3 and gets flickery at times. The sound is a bit harsh and shrill in the upper registers. There are two sound options. There’s the original LPCM stereo as recorded and a DTS 5.1 track presumably synthesized using one of DGG’s proprietary technologies (I don’t know which as the documentation is missing on my copy). The DTS track is horrible; hollow and tinny and just not worth listening to. The stereo is much better if not exactly state of the art. There are English, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Chinese subtitles. Bonus material is limited to a trailer reel.
This is a really interesting production and even though it is showing its age it’s well worth a look.