La Cenerentola - Allyson McHardy

Rossini’s La Cenerentola is Cinderella, but not as we know it from the British panto tradition. There is a dash of cruelty in the way Rossini tells the tale, but also a certain warmth that rarely topples over into sentimentality. The Canadian mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy is tackling the title role for the first time, and she is pleased that Peter Hall’s production takes the opera seriously: “I find it quite austere, in that it takes away all the buffoonery and slapstick that so often goes into productions of Rossini. Sometimes in Rossini we see walking cartoons and that denies us the opportunity to empathize with the characters. This production gives us a fairy tale, but these are real people having a real experience.”

For some commentators, Rossini’s characters, and the women in particular, are no more than vocal puppets, pulled back and forth by the composer’s extravagant musical demands. McHardy finds rather more substance in them: “I’ve always been really drawn to the intelligence of all of Rossini’s heroines. They are comic but emotionally complex characters. I’m also interested in the vocal challenges and how all that coloratura makes sense dramatically. Angelina [La Cenerentola] is complex: she may be innocent, sweet and forgiving but she does have moments of protest. She also doesn’t accept the Prince’s offer of love immediately: she has her conditions.”

Yet if there is more to Angelina than acrobatic coloratura, the role nevertheless requires a vocal technique that few singers possess. McHardy feels that she has the technique, and looks forward to demonstrating it, but does not think of herself as purely a Rossinian: “I guess (or so I have been told) the colour of my voice is suited to Rossini. The coloratura is very challenging, and it takes enormous concentration to negotiate some of the more difficult passages. I always say that with Rossini you need a plan, but it’s always good to have one foot firmly planted in bel canto: it paves the way for a safe passage to Strauss, Wagner and Verdi.”

This country has had few opportunities to hear McHardy sing, but the Tour will allow English audiences to assess her talent. At the same time, it will allow McHardy to get to know parts of England that, for her, are terra incognita. Nevertheless she is aware of the challenges of touring, and is looking forward to confronting them: “I sang the role of Orlofsky in San Francisco Opera’s Western Opera Theater Tour of Strauss’s Die Fledermaus and I really enjoyed the experience. As a teenager I toured Great Britain with a choir, but I’ve never spent a long period in England as an adult. I’m looking forward to meeting people and seeing the England that lies outside of London. The tour includes a lot of performances but I’ll prepare in the same way as I prepare for any contract. With such wonderful music I suspect I’ll grow fonder and fonder of this opera and the character. As for singing it so many times, that’s the best part. I just love to sing.”

Words: Nick Kimberley