La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo
(Cinderella, or Goodness Triumphant)
Music by Gioachino Rossini
Libretto by Jacopo Ferretti
Follow the links for photos, biographies, and reviews, as well as some audio and video clips.
A classic Rossini comedy with a heart, Cinderella is an irrepressible take on the traditional fairy tale we all know and love. Rossini conjures up a handsome prince, a beastly stepfather, bickering stepsisters, a beautiful heroine – and sheer magic in the music. True love, goodness, and forgiveness win out with an unabashedly happy ending – even for the wicked stepsisters!
Cinderella brims with Rossini's most brilliant coloratura writing and exuberant ensemble pieces. With its effervescent music and irresistible tunes, this zany romp is as much fun as opera can possibly be.
Revel in absolute enchantment as you fall under the spell of this sparkling masterpiece!
In Italian with English Surtitles
Background of the Opera
Cinderella is one of the most ancient of stories; hundreds of versions have been told around the world and across the centuries. The Chinese, the ancient Greeks, North American First Nations and many other cultures have variants of the story of the kind girl who is persecuted by her step-family, but in the end finds love and happiness.
The versions most familiar to modern readers are the 1697 tale Cendrillon by French author Charles Perrault and Aschenputtel, which was first published by German scholars Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812.
Perrault's version introduces the fairy godmother, the familiar pumpkin coach, the midnight deadline, and the glass slippers. In the more bloodthirsty version by the Brothers Grimm, birds grant all of Cinderella's wishes; the stepsisters cut off bits of their feet to fit the glass slippers and meet a Hitchcockian end as the birds peck out their eyes.
Rossini's operatic retelling of the story is based mostly on Perrault's version – with shameless borrowings from an 1814 opera, Agatina, o la virtù premiata (Agatina, or Virtue Rewarded), by composer Stefano Pavesi and librettist Francesco Fiorini. Agatina in turn was lifted from the popular 1810 opera Cendrillon by Maltese composer Nicolas Isouard and librettist Charles-Guillaume Étienne. It was Isouard's opera that replaced the fairy godmother with the philosopher Alidoro, who manipulates events in the background. Instead of a wicked stepmother Isouard (and later Rossini) bring us the ambitious stepfather Don Magnifico.
Rossini's opera was written when he was still only 24 – and already immensely popular as the composer of 19 other operas including The Barber of Seville.
We have the Vatican censors to thank for the existence of La Cenerentola. After the 1816 premiere of The Barber of Seville, Rossini was offered a contract for an opera to be staged in Rome the following December. When he arrived just before Christmas to prepare the new opera, he found that the Vatican censor had vetoed the libretto – and he now needed to come up with something else in a big hurry.
Rossini and the theatre manager called in librettist Jacopo Ferretti to salvage the situation. The three met for a late-night brainstorming session, as recounted by Ferretti:
We holed ourselves up in the house ... I proposed some twenty or thirty subjects. But one was too serious for the carnival season, another too complicated, another required an expensive staging or did not suit the singers. Tired of suggesting, and half dead on my feet from fatigue, I yawned: Cinderella. Rossini, in order to concentrate, was lying on his bed. He abruptly stood up ... and said: Would you have the heart to write Cinderella for me? I replied And you to set it to music? and he: When would the draft be ready? and I: Despite my exhaustion, tomorrow morning! and Rossini: Good night! He wrapped himself in the sheets and fell asleep.
Ferretti raced home, fortified himself with mocha coffee, pulled an all-nighter, and delivered the outline to Rossini in the morning.
They managed to complete the new opera in 24 days. The process was helped by the pre-existing libretti for the Cinderella story and by the fact that Rossini recycled a few bits from his earlier works and contracted out a couple of the arias to another composer, Luca Angolini.
Rossini added a few twists of his own to the story. A pragmatic man of the theatre, he dispensed with the overtly magical special effects, such as Perrault's transformation of a pumpkin and mice into a coach and horses. And instead of glass slippers, Cinderella and the Prince find each other through a pair of bracelets.
When the opera premiered in Rome at Teatro Valle on January 25, 1817, there were some objections to the bracelets, and a rumour went round that the glass slippers had been eliminated because the diva had ugly feet.
The diva in question, Geltrude Righetti Giorgi, strenuously refuted this slander. In an open letter to the press she explained that while licentious Paris might allow such shenanigans, in Catholic Rome, modesty forbade the display of a naked foot on stage.
You miserable people who soil paper to earn undeserved attention from your readers! On Roman stages, it is not permitted to display the same situations that are seen in France. It seemed that decency might be offended by displaying a slipper, and since it was a musical comedy it was easy to substitute a bracelet. But Sig. Parisian Journalist should not think that I say this to defend my feet: he does not know me, and if he did he might say that I have more to gain by adopting the original slipper than by clinging to the bracelet.
The Perrault story continues to cast its long shadow over the opera. In at least one English translation of the libretto, the widely available Ricordi edition, translaters Ruth and Thomas Martin actually insert a pumpkin coach into the the stage directions and glass slippers into the text on the grounds they are "indispensably a part of the Cinderella story".
But Rossini's opera stands magnificently on its own as a madcap musical masterpiece that is one of the zaniest and most beguiling versions of this beloved story.
Libretto of the Opera
In Italian, with English translation. As presented at Palmo's New York Opera House, December 1844.
La Cenerentola Educator Guide
Introduction to the opera, discussion, sound excerpts, and classroom activities from the Metropolitan Opera
La Cenerentola: Opera America
Opera America's Learning Center and Minnesota Opera explore aspects of La Cenerentola, including a synopsis and articles on the composer and Italian opera of his day.
Wikipedia's overview of the many versions of the Cinderella story
The Annotated Cinderella at SurLaLune Fairy Tales
An annotated version of the Perrault story, plus a history of the Cinderella story and links to many versions and discussions of the story. The entire SurLaLune web site is a superb resource. When you've finished reading about Cinderella, wander through the site to discover hundreds more stories.
Collections of Tales that include Versions of Cinderella
The Cinderella Cat (La gatta cenerentola)
One of the earliest European versions of the Cinderella story, The Cinderella Cat, like the later interpretation by the brothers Grimm, has some rather gruesome elements. This Cinderella starts out by murdering her first stepmother – only to be mistreated by her second stepmother, who has not two but six daughters of her own.
The Cinderella Cat is part of a collection of 50 stories told by the Italian poet, courtier, and fairy tale collector, Giambattista Basile, in a collection called The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones (Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille ), which was published posthumously in 1634-1636. It is definitely NOT a book for little ones!
Basile's collection of stories is also known as The Pentamerone. The 50 stories are told over the course of five days – an echo of Boccaccio's 14th century Decameron, in which 100 stories are told over ten days by a group of people taking refuge from the Black Death.
This edition of The Tale of Tales is edited and translated by Nancy L. Canepa.
The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault
This English translation of Perrault's fairy tales includes Cinderella, Little Red Riding-Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Bluebeard, and other familiar tales. This edition was published by George Harrap in London in 1922 and has wonderful illustrations by Harry Clarke.
Les contes des fées de Charles Perrault
This is a scanned 19th century French language edition of Perrault's fairy tales, published in Paris by Amédée Bédelet with charming illustrations by H. Pauquet.
Grimm's Fairy Tales
Aschenputtel (Cinderella / Ash Maiden) was among the stories in the first collection of fairy tales that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published in 1812. The story is similar in many ways to Basile's version, even to the gruesome touches that are unexpected to an audience raised on Walt Disney's version of the story. This is a scanned English language edition, published in 1927 by the Penn Publishing Company, Philadelphia, and edited by Frances Jenkins Olcott.
Gioachino Rossini (February 29, 1792 - November 13, 1868)
By the time he was 37, Rossini had 39 operas to his credit and was rich enough to retire and spend the next 39 years of his life doing more or less what he pleased. La Cenerentola was opera number 20, premiered when the composer was not yet 25.
Jacopo Ferretti (July 16, 1784 - March 7, 1852)