Opera Scotland

Giuseppe de Begnis

Cenerentola in Scotland

Posted 13 Oct 2014

The first performance in Scotland was given at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal on 7 February 1831 in English as Cinderella. However the work was much altered by Michael Rophino Lacy, a successful man of the theatre, who adapted the work to the taste of the contemporary audience.

The music was by Rossini, but not just from La cenerentola. Pieces were inserted from Armida, Maometto Secondo and even Guillaume Tell - three of the composer’s most serious works, composed in the decade after Cinderella. Much of this borrowed music was inserted to accompany the changes Lacy made to the plot. He brought in a Fairy Godmother, and gave Don Magnifico, renamed Pumpolino, a comic servant called Pedro, the familiar Buttons character the audience would have recognised. Other features from the pantomime tradition also appeared, including glass slippers, a ballet and the pumpkin turning into a coach, with mice as coachmen.

Rossini’s original work was given in Italian in December 1835 by a company of Italian singers who came to Edinburgh Theatre Royal from their London base. Don Magnifico was sung by their manager, Giuseppe de Begnis. Back in Rome, in 1817, he had created the part of Dandini with Rossini himself conducting. Surely these Edinburgh performances were idiomatic - certainly they were well reviewed. Our image is of de Begnis, a man with a remarkable operatic career.

Lacy’s English version held the stage during the Victorian period, not just in Glasgow and Edinburgh but also touring to Dundee and Aberdeen. A leading playwright and director, Tom Robertson, updated the piece, and his version toured Scotland several times from 1869.

The Carl Rosa star singers, and husband-and-wife team of baritone Leslie Crotty and Scottish soprano Georgina Burns, put the musical preparation of their lavish 1892 revival into the hands of a young family friend, Henry Wood, who imported more of Rossini’s music from other works. By the time Sir Henry penned his memoirs in 1938, a more authentic version had been found to work very well at Covent Garden. Much of the comedy in this revival came from the sisters – Clorinda played by the tiny soprano Alice Barth, and Tisbe by the impressive contralto Alice Barnett, a Gilbert and Sullivan veteran, famous as the creator of Ruth (Pirates of Penzance), Lady Jane (Patience) and Queen of the Fairies (Iolanthe)

The true Rossini opera was not heard again until 1953, when Glyndebourne brought to the Edinburgh Festival a production directed by Carl Ebert in the designs of Oliver Messel. The exceptional cast was led by Marina de Gabarain (Cinderella), Juan Oncina (Ramiro), Sesto Bruscantini (Dandini) and Ian Wallace (Magnifico). Even so, the evening was dominatied by the beautifully relaxed and lyrical playing under veteran conductor Vittorio Gui.

Since then we have seen a touring production by Sadler’s Wells in 1967, in which Patricia Kern took the lead. She was joined in 1969 by Ian Wallace, when Scottish Opera gave its only full-scale production of the work, directed by Colin Graham in charming designs by Emanuele Luzzati. The following year’s revival saw the title role sung by a star American mezzo, Rosalind Elias, in a rare British appearance. Scottish Opera have also mounted the piece in small and medium-scale productions for nationwide touring.

In 1971 Cenerentola returned to the Edinburgh Festival when Claudio Abbado conducted the London Symphony Orchestra and Scottish Opera Chorus. The cast included Teresa Berganza (Cinderella), Luigi Alva (Ramiro), Renato Capecchi (Dandini) and Paolo Montarsolo (Magnifico). This stylish black and white production, directed and designed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, was quickly taken up and repeated by companies all over the world.

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