Rossini is life. He reinvented Italian opera when he was 20. And every Italian composer who followed him is in his debt.  Today’s HD telecast of Rossini’s version of Cinderella showed why. Cenerentola (Rossini calls her Angelina) has been done 38 times by the Met, all in Cesare Lievi’s 1997 production. His semi-surreal sets and Maurizio Balò’s 19th century costumes serve the music well. They are relatively unimportant to the success of this opera which depends on the voices of its principals. Said voices were as good as could be found anywhere in the world. This is the second time the Met has presented this production in HD. The previous transmission was May 9, 2009.

This is not Rossini at his comic best as in The Barber and L’Italiana in Algeri, but it is nonetheless better than almost anybody before or since has done. The opera was popular through most of the 19th century and then disappeared as did almost everything by Rossini except for The Barber. For this we can blame Wagner who can never be faulted too often whether justly or not. The resurgence of Rossini and the rest of bel canto opera can be credited to Maria Callas who gets praised for everything positive in opera again whether deserved of not.

Cenerentola’s first act drags a bit. It’s too long and all of it isn’t even by Rossini. He used a collaborator for several numbers. Most of the interesting stuff comes in the second act. Here we have the bravura tenor aria ‘Si, ritrovarla io giuro’, the glorious sextet ‘Questo è un nodo avviluppato’, and Cenerentola’s volcanic ‘Nacqui all’affanno … Non piu mesta’ which ends the opera.

All the singers were better than first rate. Patricia Risley and Rachelle Durkin as the wicked sisters Tisbe and Clorinda camped up a storm, perhaps a little bit too much though the audience seemed to like their antics. Bass Luca Pisaroni  doesn’t have a whole lot to do other get the plot roiling and wear a cute pair of wings. He’s a very good singer and I hope  the Met had something more substantial for him the next time out.

Don Magnifico is a nasty piece of work. There’s nothing even remotely likable about him. Alessandro Corbelli made as much of him as possible. Dandini is a good part for a light baritone. Pietro Spagnoli made his Met debut in this role last month. He  was very impressive both vocally and dramatically as the ersatz prince.

Joyce DiDonato as Cenerentola

Joyce DiDonato as Cenerentola

But of course this opera convinces when a great tenor and mezzo sing the Prince and Cenerentola. Juan Diego Flórez cancelled the first three performances of the opera because of illness. The Met substituted Javier Camerena for him. The Mexican tenor scored a huge triumph earning an encore of the tenor aria in the performance of April 25. Florez surely was aware of what happened in his absence. He was so good that he got an encore in his first and second outing as the prince. Today he had to settle for a solo bow following the tumultuous applause that greeted his rendition of ‘Si, ritrovarla io giuro’. Every aspect of his art and technique was at its best. Fioriture, legato, effortless high notes were offered to the audience with easy abandon. He’s obviously not ready to yield pride of place as The King of the Tenorinos. Brilliant! And he looked very well. All he lacked was height.

This leaves Joyce DiDonato. I have heard her many times. She’s always been very good, but there has sometimes been an edge to her voice that was not entirely pleasing. But today she was perfect. Her sound was flawless as was her technique. It was more than flawless; it was astounding – a timeless lesson on bel canto. She said that today was her farewell to the part. I can’t understand why. She has every aspect of it down to perfection. If I could think of a better modifier, I’d use it. A great artist. Perhaps she feels at 45 that she’s too old for the part. As long as she can sing like she did today, she’s not too old.

The Met is going to do Semiramide in a few seasons. The part of Arsace is almost impossible to cast, Marilyn Horn was magnificent in the role. I wonder if the Met plans to use DiDonato in their revival. I can’t think who could do it it as well.

Fabio Luisi conducted. This run was the first time he’s done Cenerentola. He conducted with sensitivity and pace. I wish he have had his cast roll their Rs more during great second act the sextet. It needed a little more oomph than it got. The orchestra and chorus, as is now usual at the Met, were splendid. Barbara Willis Sweete’s video direction was unobtrusive which is exactly how it should be.

Listen to this recording of the sextet from a 2008 performance in Barcelona and you’ll hear the Rs rolled as they should be. DiDonato and Flórez are again the principals so I suspect the blame for the faulty enunciation belongs to Luisi.

Cenerentola sextet Barcelona 2008

Gioachino Rossini-Jacopo Ferretti/Charles Perrault

Angelina…………….Joyce DiDonato
Prince Ramiro………..Juan Diego Flórez
Dandini……………..Pietro Spagnoli
Don Magnifico………..Alessandro Corbelli
Clorinda…………….Rachelle Durkin
Tisbe……………….Patricia Risley
Alidoro……………..Luca Pisaroni

Conductor……………Fabio Luisi

Recitative Accompanist: Dennis Giauque

Production…………..Cesare Lievi
Designer…………….Maurizio Balò
Lighting Designer…….Gigi Saccomandi
Choreographer………..Daniela Schiavone
Stage Director……….Eric Einhorn
Video Director………….Barbara Willis Sweete