Is Rossini’s Cinderella overrated? A colourful new production can't save this relentlessly banal opera 

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Sunnyboy Dladla and Wallis Giunta in Cinderella
Sunnyboy Dladla and Wallis Giunta in Cinderella Credit: Alastair Muir

Cinderella, Opera North, review

We Brits have so many expectations of the Cinderella story conditioned by pantomime that it’s always faintly disappointing to find Rossini’s operatic version so denuded of all supernatural elements: there’s no Fairy Godmother here, only an enigmatic philosopher wagging a moralising finger rather than waving a magic wand. The message remains the same, however: virtue will be rewarded, and the humble exalted. If only life were like that.

The opera is rated highly in Rossini’s oeuvre – bafflingly so, in my view, as it is poorly paced, with a glut of relentless patter arias and ensembles in which everything stops for mass consternation (the composer’s party trick). The humour is flat-footed, and only in Cinderella’s wistfully modal fireside song does it tug at the heartstrings. It needs the most dazzling singing (Bartoli, Florez) or the most tasteful staging (Peter Hall’s at Glyndebourne) if it is to transcend its own banalities. Opera North hasn’t pulled it off on either count but, abetted by some smart cuts, its production is pleasant and colourful enough.

Henry Waddington and Quirijn de Lang in Cinderella Credit: Alastair Muir

For no evidently good or bad reason, the director Aletta Collins and her designer Giles Cadle have made Cinders’s father Don Magnifico the proprietor of a two-bit ballet school, where the Ugly Sisters queen it and Cinders is the drudge who sweeps the floor and sees a dream image of herself in the classroom mirror. The ball becomes some sort of modern beauty contest or talent show, after which Cinders leaves the infatuated Prince a tell-tale bracelet as she rushes home incognito. The effect is neither naively enchanting nor richly comic, but it raises the odd chuckle and isn’t too heavy-handed.

The young Canadian mezzo Wallis Giunta sings the title role: she makes a sweet and sympathetic waif, but her voice is on the small side, lacking in resonance and over-taxed by the final rondo. More impressive is the South African tenor Sunnyboy Dladla, who projects cleanly and articulates the runs neatly, delivering the evening’s best singing in the virtuoso aria “Si, ritrovarla”.

The cast of Cinderella Credit: Alastair Muir

Henry Waddington and John Savournin contribute nice characterisations of pompous dad and benign philosopher, but Quirijn de Lang isn’t lithe or mercurial enough to be master of Dandini’s coloratura. Amy J Payne and Sky Ingram gamely frump up as the Ugly Sisters.

Wyn Davies conducts with a spry light touch: if the show doesn’t quite take wing, then I fear Rossini is mainly to blame.

Box office 0844 848 2720

Until 25 February, then touring to Newcastle, Salford, Nottingham and Belfast

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