La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo
(Cinderella, or Goodness Triumphant)
Music by Gioachino Rossini
Libretto by Jacopo Ferretti
As her stepsisters Clorinda and Tisbe preen and admire themselves (No, no, no, no: non v'è / No, no, no, there is no one at all), Angelina (Cenerentola / Cinderella) makes coffee and sings a wistful song about a prince who chooses his bride for love and goodness rather than frippery and shallow beauty (Una volta c'era un re / Once upon a time there was a king). Annoyed, the stepsisters tell her to shut up, but Cinderella disregards them and stubbornly keeps on singing.
Alidoro, the prince's tutor, appears, disguised as a beggar. The stepsisters shoo the beggar away, but Cinderella surreptitiously gives him bread and coffee. Courtiers arrive to announce a visit from Prince Ramiro; he will escort the ladies to the ball and choose a wife (O figlie amabile di Don Magnifico /O gracious daughters of Don Magnifico). This news launches the stepsisters into a tizzy. As they order Cinderella to fetch their shoes, bonnets, feathers, makeup, and diamonds, she complains that she'll be languishing at home while they're off at a party.
The stepsisters quarrel over who will tell their father the exciting news, and the ruckus awakens the crochety Don Magnifico, who grumbles that they interrupted a wonderful dream (Miei rampolli feminine / My female offspring), in which a donkey sprouted feathers and flew to the top of a steeple. Magnifico is certain he is the donkey and that the dream presages great things: his daughters will become queens and have dozens of baby kings.
When Clorinda and Tisbe tell him Prince Ramiro has invited them to the ball, Magnifico is positive his dream is about to come true. He reminds the girls that one of them simply must marry the prince in order to salvage the family fortunes.
Prince Ramiro arrives, disguised as his own valet. He is curious to see the ladies of the house, for Alidoro has told him one of them is worthy to be his bride. When he encounters Cinderella, the two are immediately taken with one another (Un soave non so che in quegli occhi scintillò / A gentleness I have never known sparkles in those eyes).
Disguised as the prince, Ramiro's valet Dandini makes his grand entrance, playing the role with gusto. He flirts outrageously with Clorinda and Tisbe (Come un' ape ne' giorni d'aprile / As a bee on an April day). Each of the girls is convinced that he is mad about her.
As Don Magnifico and his daughters prepare to leave for the ball, Cinderella begs to come too (Signor, una parola / Sir, one word). Magnifico refuses brusquely, while assuring his visitors that she is just a particularly pesky servant. Alidoro arrives with a census register, announces that three eligible ladies reside at Don Magnifico's house, and asks to see Magnifico's third daughter. Magnifico declares she is dead. A pregnant silence is followed by chaos, as Cinderella insists she's alive, Magnifico threatens Cinderella, and the gentlemen try to make sense of everything (Nel volto estatico / By the fascinated faces of one and the other). Finally all head off for the palace, leaving Cinderella alone with Alidoro.
Alidoro comforts Cenerentola and tells her his carriage is arriving to carry her off to the ball.
At the palace, the bogus prince Dandini sends Magnifico off for a tour of the wine cellar, then turns his attentions to the sisters, who vie for his favours. When Magnifico, having sampled 30 barrels without ill effect, is appointed chief wine steward, his first order of business is to decree that no one is to mix water with wine.
When Ramiro asks Dandini what he thinks of the sisters (Zitto, zitto, piano, piano / Hush, hush, softly, softly), Dandini dismisses them as insolent, capricious, and vain. Although neither can make out what has possessed Alidoro to say that one of Magnifico's daughters would make a good wife, they continue the charade. Dandini then tells the increasingly desperate Clorinda and Tisbe that since he cannot marry them both, the loser can have his servant Ramiro. The girls are appalled.
A veiled Cinderella's arrival at the ball creates a sensation. As everyone speculates on her identity, Ramiro and Cinderella gaze, enthralled, at one another.
Magnifico and his daughters admit that the unknown lady looks disturbingly like Cinderella. Though worried that word might get round that he has squandered Cinderella's inheritance, Magnifico is certain the prince will marry either Clorinda or Tisbe. He fantasizes about being the power behind the throne, taking bribes and wielding influence (Sia qualunque delle figlie / Whichever one of my daughters).
As Ramiro eavesdrops, Dandini courts Cinderella. When she gently refuses him, explaining that she loves his valet, Ramiro, still in disguise, joyfully comes out of hiding and declares his love. But instead of swooning into Ramiro's arms, Cinderella gives him one of her bracelets and leaves, telling him to find out who she really is before deciding to marry her. He will recognize her by the matching bracelet that she will be wearing. Ramiro, now assuming his true identiity, vows to find her (Si, ritrovarla io giuro / Yes, I swear to find her again).
Pleased at how things are working out, Alidoro makes plans to have Ramiro's carriage break down outside Magnifico's house.
Magnifico presses Dandini to make a choice between Clorinda and Tisbe. As Magnifico listens, agog with excitement, Dandini strings him along, explaining that he's about to tell him an extraordinary, deep, dark secret (Un segreto d'importanza / An important secret). Dandini then asks Magnifico, "If I married one of your daughters, how should I treat her?" Magnifico catalogues the proper numbers of servants, horses, and dukes for the royal household – and stipulates ice cream at every meal. Dandini then reveals the charade – that he cannot provide such luxuries since he is a mere valet. Magnifico leaves in a fury.
Cinderella has returned home, changed to her rags, and ensconced herself by the fire where she sings her song. Magnifico and the sisters return in a foul temper and observe Cinderella suspiciously as she gets supper ready. A thunderstorm breaks out.
The Prince's carriage overturns outside, and Dandini and Ramiro, no longer disguised, ask for shelter. Magnifico realizes Prince Ramiro is the erstwhile valet. Ramiro and Cinderella recognize one another (Siete voi? / Is it you?). Everyone tries to come to grips with this topsy turvy turn of events. As the sisters and Magnifico berate Cinderella, Ramiro rushes to her defense. Cinderella asks the Prince to forgive her family, even as they accuse her of being a hypocrite.
Ramiro asks Cinderella to be his bride and leads her away. Alidoro reminds the sisters of their meanness when he came to their home as a beggar. He points out that they have a choice: end their days in misery or throw themselves on the mercy of the new princess.
At the palace, Cinderella and Ramiro celebrate their wedding as her family grudgingly looks on. Cinderella again dissuades the prince from punishing them: I ascend the throne and wish to be greater than the throne, and my revenge shall be their forgiveness.
She tells her family she wishes only to be acknowledged as daughter, sister, and friend. As everyone praises her, she rejoices that her long years of heartache are over (Non più mesta accanto al fuoco / No longer shall I sit alone singing sadly by the fire).