Pantomime is meant to be silly and perhaps superficial, but fun. One does not (for example) join an audience for Cinderella to be driven into deep contemplation of life, morality and the cultural roots of human duty. But that is what happened to me last Saturday afternoon while watching the most marvellous performance at Nevill Holt of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo (‘Cinderella, or Goodness Triumphant’).
It was certainly fun, it was beautifully directed, played and sung, and Nevill Holt (my first time there) is out of this world: in the rolling Leicestershire countryside, the setting is stunning, the gardens lovely and the ambience smart and stylish, but without that hint of class anxiety that can sometimes set one’s teeth on edge at Glyndebourne. This opera is wonderfully silly – and the genius of Saturday’s production was that they camped up the silliness. We so often struggle to take opera plots seriously, but on Saturday nobody was trying. It was a relief to be allowed to giggle.
Nevertheless, Rossini does have something to say in Cinderella. His version eschews magic. No pumpkins, no mice, and in place of a fairy godmother a rather mysterious figure, almost a holy man – the Prince’s teacher, Alidoro. Disguised as an itinerant beggar, he throws himself upon Cinderella’s mercy. She takes pity and finds food for him. Recognising her goodness, he reappears and, no longer in rags, arranges for her to go to the ball. He reminds us that God is watching us and knows our sins, and that there will be justice in the end. She, a kind and loving soul, needs no reminding. She too has been watched and judged – by Alidoro in a sort of rehearsal for the Last Judgment.