Gioacchino Rossini

La Cenerentola

„Se tu respiri, ti scanno qui.” – “If you so much as breathe, I’ll croak you on the spot.”
(Don Magnifico towards Angelina, Act I, No. 5, Quintetto)

Everybody knows the fairy-tale, the story of La Cenerentola, everybody knows Rossini. But Rossini’s Cenerentola is in some important aspects different. Like in his other most popular operas, The Barber of Seville and L’Italiana in Algeri, we experience in libretto and music his typical humour and joyous temperament. But still, here in La Cenerentola the core of the opera is serious, and the title role, Angelina, is in a surprisingly strict way excluded from all the fun that is happening all around her. So it is crucial to be aware that Angelina’s character is a very individual one and totally different from the ones of Rosina and Isabella.

Isabella for example, probably the first “Lara Croft”, is self-confident and sovereign, even the end of the world wouldn’t really trouble her, or if so, then only for a short moment. Rosina is close to Isabella, she is principally cheerful and sly. Angelina is quite the opposite of Isabella and there are only two similarities between her and Rosina. Both fall in love without knowing (respectively caring about) the true identity of their lovers. And both want to escape from their initial environment. But whereas Rosina is actively undertaking everything in order to become free, Angelina has accepted her destiny and dares only to dream of another world. Whereas Rosina can become quite “tricky”, Angelina only twice is showing some very modest opposition: at the beginning (Act I, No. 1), when she doesn’t stop her song immediately and later (Act I, No. 6), when she is begging for allowance to go to the ball. The true Rosina on the contrary wouldn’t have argued long to leave for the ball and would have found a way by herself. Isabella not at a party? Impossible! She certainly even would have managed the others to serve her!

As the plot and the characters of the other roles are following exceptionally the buffo scheme, it certainly isn’t easy to accept that Angelina – the angel – seems to come from another planet, that in fact her personality is a complete demonstration of Christian faith and charity: She endures even the most cruel attacks without defending herself; she cares for others, not for herself. It is her charity – being the only one giving bread to the – disguised as a beggar – prince’s tutor – that makes her to be chosen as the future queen. She performs what the old catechism classified as a Corporal Work of Mercy William Weaver writes. And so it is literally not her triumph and no triumph over others, when the story ends happily, but the triumph of “bontà”. Whether this aspect of the opera is reactionary or just reflecting a romantic vision of the „good“ sovereign or has been a concession to the strongly influential ecclesiastical censorship isn’t really important, but it is defining Angelina’s personality completely. I share Richard Osborne judgement of Angelina being truly human.

So the real challenge in interpreting Angelina and what makes this role more difficult to perform than Rosina or Isabella is to find a way in order to remain the innocent, romantic and maybe even a little naïve girl, and not to change her character by being affected by all the fun that is going on around her. One also may not overlook that Angelina is going through a transformation – in the true spirit of the opera seria – from a servant to the queen. So she already from the start has to demonstrate her royal, god-given, superiority. And yet, she will remain a servant, not longer to Don Magnifico and her step-sisters of course, but to her people.

This characterisation of her personality is also reflected in the music Rossini is giving her. She starts with a simple melody, a folk song. Later, though being the centre of the opera, she is musically staying rather in the background, she is never soloist but always partner to others. Rossini designed her musically in a more, gentle, quiet and reserved way, creating by this even more effect as Mozart so often did. Not before she has become the new queen she receives the corresponding music. And Philip Gossett considers this final Cavantina also as the music we normally associate with the world of Rossini’s serious operas, with Elisabetta, regina d’Inghliterra or La donna del lago.

I was very lucky to have sung my first Angelina at the Rossini Opera Festival’s first staging of La Cenerentola in 1998 in the elegant production of Luca Ronconi and under Carlo Rizzi. And not to forget with Juan Diego Flórez and Alessandro Corbelli, certainly the best Ramiros and Dandinis of our time.

October 2002 / Vesselina Kasarova