Review: New Zealand Opera’s performance of Cinderella is the real deal

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Angelina [cinderella] Sarah Castle is framed by her ugly sisters Clorinda (Amelia Berry) and Tisbe (Rachelle Pike). Photo by Neil Mackenzie.

Review by Selwyn Manning.

Forget pumpkins, glass slippers and fairy God mothers, New Zealand Opera’s performance of Cinderella is the real deal.

It’s comedy. It is tragedy. It is a tale of how good can triumph over adversity.

New Zealand Opera describes La Cenerentola as: “an opera in two acts by Gioachino Rossini. Libretto by Jacopo Ferretti based on the fairy tale Cendrillon by Charles Perrault. La cenerentola was first performed on 25 January 1817 at Teatro Valle in Rome. The performance lasts approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes, including an interval of 20 minutes. Sung in Italian with English subtitles. A co-production between New Zealand Opera and Opera Queensland.”

Ashraf Sewailam as Alidoro. Photo by Stephanie Do Rozario.
Ashraf Sewailam as Alidoro. Photo by Stephanie Do Rozario.
New Zealand Opera presents for this performance an impressive cast. Among them is Ashraf Sewailam, Egypt’s bass baritone operatic superstar who spends much of his time performing around the world and who has a home-base in Colorado, in the United States.

Ashraf Sewailam will be familiar to New Zealand opera fans. Back in 2012 he performed the role of the assassin, Sparafucile in New Zealand Opera’s Rigoletto. (Ref. LiveNews.co.nz) He was brilliant then, as he is now in La Cenerentola.

The cast includes: Angelina [Cinderella] performed by Sarah Castle; Don Ramiro performed by John Tessier; Dandini performed by Marcin Bronikowski; Alidoro performed by Ashraf Sewailam; Don Magnifico performed by Andrew Collis; and the marvellous ugly sisters: Clorinda performed by Amelia Berry and Tisbe performed by Rachelle Pike.

Like Ashraf Sewailam, Sarah Castle is renowned, and she shines wonderfully in this starring role. She was born in New Zealand. Studied at the Royal Northern College of Music, and made her début at Covent Garden in the United Kingdom as Tisbe in La cenerentola.

Arts writer Susan Buckland summed up the story nicely:

La cenerentola is a realistic take on the fairytale in a
comic opera setting. Rossini’s opera is enlivened with daft characters who strut, flounce and scene-steal. Notably the buffoon-like Magnifico, stepfather to Angelina (Cinderella) who dreams of becoming rich, and his sniping, stroppy daughters who pot shot their stepsister at every turn. But Rossini’s La cenerentola blends frivolity and poignant tenderness. It is underpinned by believable actions and heartfelt human emotions.

La Cenerentola, Cinderella is a wonderful opera. It’s dark elements are real. They are timeless, unfortunately. Cinderella’s situation brings to mind people from our own world whose real life stories did not end well.

But Rossini’s Cinderella is a story of hope. And it delivers.

Dandini (Marcin Bronikowsi) and Don Ramiro (John Tessier) befriend Cinderella. Photo by Neil Mackenzie.
Dandini (Marcin Bronikowsi) and Don Ramiro (John Tessier) befriend Cinderella. Photo by Neil Mackenzie.

Cinderella’s backstory suggests an early life surrounded by the love of two parents. But due to complex circumstance she soon found herself estranged from nurture and security.

As a young woman she became controlled by ugliness. An abusive alcoholic father measured her worth only in terms of servitude. Her two stepsisters considered her weak, lowly, a focus of derision.

They were all victims. Cinderella was a victim of external circumstance, her sisters were twisted by the grotesqueness that swelled from within them.

It is true, the characters are strong and deliver relevance and parallels to our contemporary times.

New Zealand Opera balanced the elements perfectly. Tragedy was interwoven with comedy to produce a marvellous tapestry that could so easily have all unravelled. But like Cinderella’s lot, this performance builds toward a wonderfully anticipated conclusion. And there were little not-so-subtle gems, like the references to local wines in a comedy exchange between an inebriated Magnifico and the Prince’s courtiers that particularly delighted the Auckland audience on opening night.

With this cast, the creative and productive team, La Cenerentola, Cinderella was in very good hands.

And it was a delight to witness the inner beauty of Cinderella’s character, of how she was able to breach introspection, to express her gentleness, her goodness, and to prevail. Let it always be so.

Cinderella - Angelina (Sarah Castle) is guided on her journey to happiness and honour by the marvellous Alidoro (Ashraf Sewailam). Photo by Neil Mackenzie.
Cinderella – Angelina (Sarah Castle) is guided on her journey to happiness and honour by the marvellous Alidoro (Ashraf Sewailam). Photo by Neil Mackenzie.

Also, it’s a pleasure to note, this performance was brought to life by the guiding brilliance of New Zealand Opera’s creative team: conductor Wyn Davies (Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra); director Lindy Hume; assistant director Jacqueline Coats; choreographer Taiaroa Royal; production designer Dan Potra; and lighting designer Matthew Marshall.

Bravo.

There’s still time to see La Cenerentola, Cinderella. It is on at Auckland’s ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre with two performances scheduled for Friday 5 June 7.30pm and Sunday 7 June 2.30pm. Click here to book your tickets (be quick they are selling fast).

FLASHBACK: Selwyn Manning interviews Ashraf Sewailam in 2012.

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues.
Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia’s FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand’s The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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