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"Ah Rossini...! The real inventor of the assembly line. That Ford fellow was just a copycat. One-size-fits-all overtures. Arias you swear you've heard before (you did). Plots that are reused more often than a sandlot league baseball. Why do we love him so much? Because his music is so infectious that it gets under your skin faster than a splinter from a bamboo shade.
This production of Rossini's take on Cinderella, another filmed Opera from Director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, is beautiful. A joy from beginning to end. Frederica von Stade is luminous in the role of Cenerentola. Literally luminous. Ponnelle illuminates her for much of this film as if he were a graduate of the Spielberg school of backlighting. In fact he backlights just about everything and everyone, sooner or later. Filmed in 1981, (Spielberg had made that technique ubiquitous back then), La Cenerentola had me searching for ET in the long shots. Yet, oddly enough it works. It is a fairy tale, after all.
The Overture has the camera weaving through the empty lobby of La Scala, fixing on the marble statues of famous Italian composers. From there it meanders into the theater and finally the stage. The film records a virtual "La Scala" (it isn't, though) staged performance without an audience. Yet it seems larger, and occasionally it does open up to a larger location. The sets are stunning. Every visual element has been carefully chosen to emphasize beauty. This is a lovely film, thoroughly enjoyable just for it's aesthetic excellence!
But there's a beautifully performed Opera here, as well. The youthful Von Stade is a lovely heroine. Her singing is wonderful, her voice lighter than Cecilia Bartoli's smokey mezzo found on her DVD of Cenerentola; now that I have both singers, it is fascinating to compare the two.
Francisco Araiza is Don Ramiro and Claudio Desderi is Dandini. Paulo Montarsolo sings Don Magnifico. Margherita Guglielmi sings Clorinda. Paul Plishka is Alidoro. The entire cast is superb. The Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, under the direction of the Conductor Claudio Abbado, live and breath this music. They have that authentic Rossini sound unique to native Italians. Nevertheless, they often perform with manic energy; as if this were the first time they were inhabiting Rossini's sound world.
The DTS 5.1 sound is crystalline and full. The picture is well-nigh perfect, as befits a film that's been digitally remastered.
As usual, Ponnelle recorded the music first in January 1981, then had the singers lip sync for the filmed performance in Vienna during August & September that same year. Thus, the singers can focus on their acting; not where the next note is coming from. This works for me, for what it's worth, but purists may not like it. I think the film's beauty and lofty production values can overcome any obstacle. My strongest possible recommendation for this superbly performed and beautifully filmed La Cenerentola from Director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and a great cast and Orchestra under Claudio Abbado!
Ted Zoldan | Los Angeles, CA, USA | 01/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Cenerentola has been served well on DVD, with four fine productions available, but Ponnelle's film (set somewhere near the Victorian area, given the costumes) is truly an achievement. It's incredibly funny, has great musical values and is also very, very touching. A few of the jokes misfire, (I could do with less of the sister's squealing), but the production, filmed in and around La Scala, is wonderfully innovative. During the overture, we get a tour of the La Scala house and lobby, with it's statues of great Italian Composers singled out, especially that of Rossini (of course). This is a fairy tale with a genuinely happy ending, by the way, and it's exquisitely staged: The Magnificos, who have worn extravagant clothing and hair-dos throughout, appear at the wedding in Victorian grey, looking plain and penitent, only to be forgiven by a dewy-eyed Von Stade. The Sisters break down in tears, and Magnifico is wonderfully and genuinely humbled and forgiven. The scene is nowhere near as touching on the other videos.
Frederica Von Stade's exquisite Cinderella brought tears to my eyes with her performance of the finale: it's a testament to her skill that this was not her most famous role. It doesn't hurt, of course, that she is a genuine beauty. My Favorite moments: the look on her face as Cenerontola Discovers love in the Prince's Valet and then her wonderful, wonderful smile as she relives the ball and strokes the bracelet on her arm (only to hide it, with excellent comic timing, when her family comes back.) As her Prince Charming, Don Ramiro, Francisco Ariaza is in fine voice. His falling-in-love duet with Von Stade has to be heard to be believed, and his big aria goes over very well.
Paolo Montarsolo's Magnifico is simply the best on disk or video. His singing and diction are impeccable and his Mugging is less evident and more appropriately handled than in his performance as Basilio and Bartolo in Ponnelle's films of BARBIERE and NOZZE DI FIGARO Films. His Magnifico is both a cruel man, but he's not a buffoon and there's a something sympathetic about his downfall. His nearly-silent work in the finale shows that there was much more to his skill as a singing actor than being funny.
He matches wits with Claudio Desderi, an Excellent Dandini. Chubby-Faced and expressive, (he bares a passing resemblance to Dom DeLuise) he's an excellent musician and very funny. His opening ballad and ensemble features a wonderfully held line, excellent coloratura and impeccable patter. He appears as Magnifico on another video, but his work is nowhere near as good as it is here.
Paul Plishka is given an expanded role as Alidoro, who observes much of the antics of the other characters silently. He sings his aria well, and is provided with the production's one major departure from tradition. Usually, On the line "Look, and see who I am", Alidoro takes off his begger disguise and reveals his rich clothing. Here, Alidoro is already in his court dress, and on the aforementioned line, he points to the statue of Rossini, which comes to life. Plishka appears made up very convincingly as Rossini and, at one point, appears on screen with (and duets with) himself, as Alidoro appears to drive Cenerentola off to the ball.
The Sisters (Maria Guglielmi and Laura Zannani) both sing well and are very funny, though, as I said before, I could do without much of their squealing (which is not in the score).
Abbado repeats his fine work from his CD set (the Magnifico family are also the same). A true Rossian, his work is impeccable with an irreproachable sense of style and speed, making the all-important ensembles work like polished clockwork. Even without the visual aspect, this is one of the finest CENERENTOLAS on record. If the soundtrack to this film was released, I'd buy it in a second.
This film, by the way, makes an excellent companion to the Saltzburg Festival video with Ann Murray. Murray is nearly on Von Stade's level as a Cenerentola, Ariaza repeats his performance (if not in as fresh a voice), and plays Ramiro with an angry streak. Gino Quilico is good without approaching the brilliant Desderi as Dandini, and Walter Berry, while not on stable ground vocally, is a nasty Don Magnifico with very little that's funny about him, an interesting and appropriate characterization that counter-points Montarsolo's interestingly. There is an attractive (both physically and vocally) pair of sisters and Wolfgang Schone, a great Alidoro. Either of these Versions would be proud assets to a collection, but I would never want to be without Montarsolo, Von Stade, Desderi and Abbado. "
The Greatest Opera Movie Ever!
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 09/03/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I finally received my long-awaited copy of the Ponelle/Abbado/von Stade DVD and I can tell you the thing is pure wow! I truly believe this effort is one of the most perfect attempts at committing opera to film, drawing as close a relationship as possible between actual opera house performance and studio film. The balance is nothing less than remarkable resulting in a very special work all on its own.
Ponnelle gets his wonderful cast to truly work as a team and the result is never less than magical. von Stade, for me, is the most radiant Cenerentola of all time and I have to wonder; has there ever been a more willowy, beautiful heroine? Her subtle facial expressions are more numerous than many other mezzos in this role yet she never once comes close to becoming cloying or hammy - each is just right and feels perfectly natural. Her singing throughout is exciting.
Abbado sometimes (in my opinion) pushes things along at breakneck pace, but this still feels Rossinian in spirit and makes the thing crackle with a vivaciousness that is not impossible to get caught up in, ever bubbly and buoyant. The La Scala forces all seem caught up in it as well and it makes for a very special presentation of a very special work.
From "Una volta c'era un re" the entire role is stamped with that unmistakable von Stade magic. I don't know of a singer who has a better "melancholy" quality built right into her instrument and in this role it works like magic. This quality makes the contrasts stand out more than usual and are so effective, noticeably in the first great ensemble, the Act I quintet, where her melancholia transforms into a sparkling, put- upon quality. Here, Rossini shows his hand as one of the greatest, most inspired "technicians" ever to put pen a score. This ensemble (one of my favorites in all of opera) also includes one of my favorite musical moments; during Cenerentola's patter-commentary (spat out with amazing clarity) - "Cenerentola vien qua, Cenerentola va la, Cenerentola va' su, Cenerentola vien giu" then the amazing little four note scale repeated over and over "Questo e proprio uno strapazzo! Mi volete far crepar" is mind boggling in its simplicity and effectiveness at portraying the moment. (Can you tell yet this is one of my very favorite operas, too?) In the first "go" at the "Questo..." von Stade (with her back to the camera) throws herself like a rag doll being pulled in separate directions - and it is a wonderful effect that is the perfect visualization of Rossini's breathless music.
Francisco Araiza is a thoroughly charming prince, although his aspirate- tackling of the coloratura work is sometimes a bit too much (for my own taste) which is odd, as when in duetto with von Stade he seems able to smooth out the passage work. But these two make as handsome a couple as ever seen in opera and their first sighting of each other and their ensuing duet is charm personified.
The rest of the cast includes Paolo Montarsolo as an over-the top Don Magnifico who really seems intent on burning his bridges in his treatment of his stepdaughter; the comic book sisters of Clorinda and Tisbe of Margherita Guglilmi and Laura Zannini - who manage to make the girls into a hilarious Lucy and Ethel act.
Forgive me if I'd forgotten just how amazing a singer was Paul Plishka. The voice is huge, robust, commanding and warm. His Alidoro - Rossini coming to life, made my heart just swell to almost bursting. There is a spiritual quality here that looks forward to Parsifal (another of my favorites). The sense of wide-eyed wonderment von Stade's heroine wears has an honesty that is hypnotic. She, like Parsifal, at the end of the first Grail scene, is rendered speechless. Here, Rossini raises his heroine, changing the simplicity of a fairy tale into a miracle, a lesson about the power of faith and goodness. It's impossible not love her. Plishka's performance is complete in every way.
Claudio Desderi is hilarious - strongly recalling Dom Delouise (which I'm guessing was not intentional on his part) and, like everyone else, having the time of his life here. Like Araiza, Desderi ascribes to the aspirate- ridden method of coloratura, but in this comical role it works to his advantage.
Ponnelle's staging of the Act II Sextet is perhaps my very favorite staging of any operatic ensemble on video. Back lighting throws the entire scene into silhouette with the singer's robotic movements resembling the intricate motions of a great Bavarian Cuckoo Clock. Remarkably, each singer retains their individuality by becoming part of something larger. Musically and cinematically it's amazing, and at it's conclusion, with all of the intricate movements, Ponelle somehow - as by magic - has each character returned to their starting positions. Awesome.
Flicka gets to shine like a genuine diamond in the final scene, once again imbuing that heartfelt melancholia into "Nacqui all' affanno..." and then blazing triumphantly through "Non piu mesta."
Ponnelle's control of everything (including costumes), attention to the smallest of details, shows just how much he loved this work and we are indebted to him for bringing this gem to a different level.
One midnight five years ago, I got out of bed after tossing and turning for hours, and put on the VHS copy of this. I watched the entire thing and all my worries seemed to disappear. Later that day I found out it was the anniversary of the first performance of La Cenerentola. I'm still convinced Angelina woke me up on purpose!
I really do believe Rossini's girl is one of the most perfect creations in all of opera and Ponnelle's film version is a vision and just about one of the most perfect ways to spend a couple of joyous hours.
Ponnelle poorly served by remastering
P. C. Vogel | USA | 07/30/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Unitel-DGG has remastered this marvellous performance poorly. The frame has been made smaller and much of Ponnelle's masterful placement of singers is lost as the singers on the left and the right are now out of the frame. Get the older video tape (1988) if you can. Otherwise, the sound is good and the singers great."
*The* most beautiful opera film!
Ivy Lin | NY NY | 04/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I usually don't care much for operatic films. For one, attempts to "open up" an opera are often awkward. Secondly, most operatic singers are not trained to sing for the camera -- what may look dramtically effective onstage in front of a camera often looks hammy or over-the-top. And then there's the awful lip-synching. Exhibit A: the ridiculous "Il Trovatore" film with Gencer, del Monaco, Barbieri, and Bastianinni.
That being said, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's 1981 film of Cinderella is, bar none, the best operatic film I've ever seen. Ponnelle does not entirely "open up" the opera. The first scenes are of the proscenium of La Scala, and as the opera starts the camera zooms in on the stage set of Don Magnifico's home. From then on, the characters do move "out" of the fourth wall, but the sets remain stylized, and somewhat surreal, so one is never sure if it's a stage performance or a movie. It's a very effective blend.
Ponnelle's sets, costumes, and stage-direction are creative, beautiful, funny, and entertaining. Rossini's charming score often leads to an earthy interpetation of Anegelina, the title character. But Ponnelle by casting the young, beautiful, waif-like Frederica von Stade, makes the opera a true fairy-tale. von Stade's long blond hair falls over her face in the opening of the opera, as she sadly leans on her broom, and the camera pans into her sad, beautiful face. The camera often uses close-ups of von Stade's dreamy, exressive face to underline the deeper emotions behind Rossini's upbeat tunes. When Alidoro (Paul Plishka) appears to take Angelina to the ball, he's bathed in a heavenly light, as if he were literally a guardian angel. von Stade's voice, a light, bright mezzo, doesn't have the earthiness of Cecilia Bartoli (another famous Angelina), but it sounds more girlish, more romantic, and it has a bell-like ring. The haunting musical theme of Angelina's enslavement (Una volta c'era un re) has never sounded lovelier than here with von Stade's soft-grained, warm voice.
Ponnelle handles the comic aspects of the story very well. Don Magnifico (Paolo Montosarlo) is hilarious; a ridiculous, pompous blowhard. The funniest scene of the opera is him at Don Ramiro's court, being mockingly puffed up as a wine connoseuir. In the background, the courtiers hold up a black and white chalkboard that announces how many wines Magnifico's "sampled." They keep erasing it as the number climbs; finally it's 30 wines, and Magnifico has to be literally held up by the courtiers as he makes a degree banning the mixing of water and wine for 15 years. The stepsisters (Margherita Guglielmi and Laura Zanninni) are also hilarious -- purposely sung in a shrill high soprano, they contrast with von Stade's warmer, more romantic voice. Claudio Desderi is an excellent Dandini, matching wits well with Montosario. Their scenes together are among the funniest of the opera. For a dvd that gets an A+ all around, the only B+ I'd give would be to Francisco Araiza, the Prince Don Ramiro. A short tenor of rather average looks, he sings well but his acting skills are not on par with the rest of the cast.
Overall, this is simply a beautiful production and performance of this opera. It is so full of effective moments that it'd be hard to single any one out, but when the Prince and Angelina are reunited, it is usually a moment of triumph. But Ponnelle has Cinderella kneeling, asking the Prince to pardon her wicked family, suddenly making this scene full of humanity. Angelina's humility and humanity becomes the overwhelming theme of the opera. von Stade can't give Angelina's final aria, "Nacqui all' affano" (and yes it has the same melody as the Count Almaviva's final aria in Barbiere di Siviglia -- Rossini was famous for "recycling" melodies) the vocal fireworks of, say, a Bartoli (or Juan Diego Florez), but once again, the beauty of the moment more than suffices for the lack of fireworks. The last image of the opera is of Angelina, beautiful and radiant in her white wedding dress. Goodness has triumphed.
The camera occasionally pans to a statue of Rossini in the La Scala lobby. Rossini after seeing this film would be very proud indeed."