La Cenerentola, Rossini’s delirious drama giocoso, was written in 1817, but it did not reach the Met until 1997. It has been performed only 32 times since then, most recently in 2009. Absence has hardly made the heart grow fonder.
Of course one cannot blame the inspired composer. Nor, in this case, can one blame the designer Maurizio Balò, whose sets suggest witty faux-Magritte cartoons. Otherwise, alas, this Cenerentola, originally staged by Cesare Lievi and now reheated by Eric Einhorn, remains a vulgar burlesque – pointlessly hyperactive and painfully antimusical.
Cenerentola, aka Cinderella, contends here with a pair of step sisters who mug, strut, squirm, flounce, titter and elbow the viewer with non-stop scene-stealing hysteria. One wonders why the central waif should forgive them in the end. Dandini, the factotum who impersonates the prince, staggers and swaggers, preens and balances a handy cane as if he were a matinee-idol who wandered in from the wrong show. A sight gag involving a broken divan that lacks one leg is repeated whenever a character, any character, sits down. The laughter diminishes as the evening drags on. So does the audience.
Luckily, the cast on Monday offered some vital compensation. Joyce DiDonato exuded purity and sweetness in the title role, obnoxious surroundings notwithstanding. She sang with casual brilliance and bravado, especially as the ornate line ascended. Javier Camarena, her almost-charming Prince, sang high (very high) and low, loud and soft, fast and slow with extraordinary accuracy and ease. No wonder he is our tenor-sensation du jour. Although the uneven supporting cast mustered little bel-canto finesse, Alessandro Corbelli earned gratitude for minimising buffo clichés as a mean yet hearty Magnifico. Luca Pisaroni loomed darkly as Alidoro, and Pietro Spagnoli emerged egocentrically eccentric as Dandini. Rachelle Durkin and Patricia Risley did as they apparently were told as the shamelessly silly siblings.
Fabio Luisi, officially the Met’s principal conductor though a secondary player now that James Levine is back, managed to enforce verve and style, even elegance in the pit. It was reassuring.