It is a truth universally acknowledged, that if you take out a pen and notebook in a theatre the person to your right will thereafter enquire as to whether you might not perhaps be a reviewer. Such enquiry is typically followed by another question about where said review might be read. And then, an inevitability in Edinburgh in August, ‘what have you seen you recommend?’
I dread this question. How do you politely explain to a perfect stranger that unless their taste is uncannily similar, we’re unlikely to enjoy the same shows. Should I lapse and recommend something, they’re probably more likely to curse my name for suggesting a show they despised than they are to send up silent prayers of thanks for being sent to something so transporting.
As a reviewer, such apprehension probably isn’t something I should be so upfront about, but it’s unavoidable. You only have to browse broadsheet reviews of a production to see how wide-ranging professional critical judgements can be. As a case in point, take Opéra de Lyon’s production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola showing in Edinburgh as part of the EIF programme. Half the broadsheet reviewers seemed to think it was a panto-esque everything-and-the-kitchen-
For my part, I loved this frenzied, facetious production. I’m a devoted opera-goer with traditionalist leanings, but not so far as to constitute full-blown traditionalism. As a baroque fangirl, though, 19th-century Italian opera isn’t normally something I’d rush to see (I hold an unbecoming grudge against the dominance of 19th-century works in the opera repertoire), but the Mozart-like melodies of Rossini’s fairy tale seemed the perfect antidote to a month of heavy-going politically-fuelled Fringe theatre.
Although Rossini’s Cinderella lacks the magical features made famous by Disney’s version, director Stefan Herheim has Rossini himself, furiously writing the opera with a feathered quill as the production unfolds, take up the fairy godmother role in the form of Don Magnifico, Cenerentola’s pompous father. There’s barely a second of La Cenerentola where something isn’t happening on stage—the scenery is constantly in motion, digital projections mirror whip-smart choreography, the all-male chorus are bewigged, rotund Rossinis.
Certain critics complained that such hyperactivity detracted from the quality of the largely impressive singing as well as from the moral at the heart of Rossini’s stripped-back version of the fable: be good and be kind and someday you too, downtrodden servant girl, will marry a prince and live happily ever after. Given the utter absurdity of such a fable in today’s world, it seems vastly more appropriate—not to mention infinitely more entertaining—to stage the production as it has been by Herheim, undermining such absurdity through a cynical, knowing wit.
La Cenerentola was performed as part of the Edinburgh International Festival 2018. Click here for more details.