Review: La Cenerentola

Daniel Shailer 22 February 2020

Cambridge University Opera Society’s take on Rossini’s La Cenerentola goes down a treat in a revamped Italian setting.

La Cenerentola is Rossini’s retelling of Cinderella: minus the magic, and with Prince Charming disguised as a valet. It’s not very complicated, or subtle (good defeats evil without too much recourse to actual suffering) yet the show is a staple for its light-hearted humour and lively array of characters. It’s an opera that shouldn’t put off new audiences and this CUOS Mainshow production is as welcoming as any; sung in Italian with English surtitles, it’s theatrical, funny and winningly self-aware.

It’s unclear what this lost-in-translation retelling of Cinderella gains from an Italian setting. The more striking visual moments are borrowed from the silver screen and director, Maddy Trepanier’s, affinity for Audrey Hepburn flick Roman Holiday. The set comes together like a studio backlot – complete with rickety Spielberg-esque special effects for a storm in the second half – and the lighting is all bruised purples and melodramatic spotlights. It’s gooey romantic flick taken to the point of pantomime.

Image credit: Anna Gawedzka

There is an impressive amount of student talent to enjoy, from the leading lady to a self-assured, bustling chorus. I wonder if Chloe Allison is slightly miscast as the downtrodden Angelina: her voice is compellingly powerful and dominates proceedings even when poor Cinderella certainly does not. It wants a little more shade at the outset, but that’s easy to forget by the time the show hits its stride and Angelina is moving up in the world.

In the character’s more confident second act moments, Chloe’s voice is a clear highlight. This is not before, however, Anna Wagner very nearly steals the show as one of the evil stepsisters in the Friday show. Together with Anita Monserrat, these two ‘delectable doughnuts’ are hilarious as the pruning, bickering birds of paradise.

They’re supported by a talented cast of performers: Louis Wilson gives a very complete vocal and comic performance as the prince’s chauffeur, and Joshua Geddes’ rich, ringing vibrato is a pleasure to listen to. Tristan Stock’s Prince Ramiro is endearingly earnest and his high notes are all there in plenty, even if the tuning occasionally gets lost in the clouds.

Image credit: Ben Gibson

Many of the performances are more dramatically fluent than vocally flawless, but this need only put off the purist. It makes for a very enjoyable and ultimately less alienating presentation of an often alienating form.

The leads occasionally find themselves fighting against a confident orchestra led by Luke Fitzgerald, until the chorus arrive with some assured vocal firepower; the addition of female voices is welcome and Jess Beaumont’s costume design places the story amongst a gossiping small town community of villagers, nuns and schoolchildren.

Image credit: Ben Gibson

This production comes into its own in the second half, throwing the more heartfelt moments into relief with relished silliness. Cinderella and the prince ride off into the sunset on a honeymoon Vespa (spoiler – but not really). It’s a little saccharine and it’s not always technically perfect, but it’s eminently enjoyable and carries a very pertinent message about forgiveness, generosity and bonta in triumpho: kindness triumphant.

Image credit: Anna Gawedzka

4 stars.