An Opera in two acts, composed in 1817
Music by Gioachino Rossini
Libretto by Giacomo Feretti, after Charles Perraults fairy-tale Cendrillon (1697),
G.-G. Etienne's libretto Cendrillon (1810)
and F. Fiorini's libretto Agatina für Stefano Pavesi (1814).
Don Magnifico lives with his two daughters Clorinda and Tisbe and his stepdaughter Cenerentola in a run-down castle. While his vain daughters Clorinda and Tisbe are busy with their looks, Cenerentola is doing all the house-work as well as serving her lazy, arrogant stepsisters. She consoles herself singing a melancholy cong about a king who chooses a kind-hearted bride without being blinded by superficial appearances - a song which does not please her sisters. The quarrel is interrupted by a beggar who asks for alms. Cenerentola takes pity on him and gives him something to eat. Clorinda and Tisbe are annoyed, but distracted by the arrival of a group of noblemen. They have been sent by Prince Ramiro to invite all the eligible girls of the country to a ball, where the Prince intends to choose his bride. The excited squabbling of his daughters wakes Don Magnifico. The announcement that the Prince himself will shortly arrive increases the chaos. Clorinda and Tisbe order Cenerentola to dress them as quickly as possible and Con Magnifico already sees his financial problems solved by a brilliant match for one of his daughters.
Aldoro, teacher of the Prince, who has already visited the house in the disguise of the beggar, has advised Ramiro to explore the situation in the clothing of his attendant, Dandini. When the disguised prince enters the house, he and Cenerentola immediately fall in love. However, the Prince does not find out who this lovely girl in rags really is. Dandini arrives wearing the clothes of his master and is welcomed effusively by Don Magnifico and his daughters. Cenerentola begs her stepfather to take her to the ball, even if only to watch it, but in spite of Ramiro's protest is gruffly refused. Alidoro puts him in an awkward position by asking about the third daughter of the house, of whom he knows by a document of the unmarried women in the region. Don Magnifico claims she died and urges everyone to leave. Cenerentola and Alidoro remainl he consoles her and promises not only to provide a dress for the ball and transport to the palace, but also a change in her fortunes.
At the palace Dandini, still disguised as the prince, appoints the vain Don Magnifico with imaginary honours and invites him to visit his wine-cellars. Clorinda and Tisbe are quarreling for the favour of the prince. Only with difficulty can he escape their attentions.
Don Magnifico has inspected the wine-cellars with the greatest pleasure. The courtiers are amused by him dictating long orders and appoint him wine steward. Dandini in the meantime makes fun of the sisters by suggesting that the on who is not chosen by him will get to marry his attendant - the disguised prince Ramiro. Arrogantly, Clorinda and Tisbe refuse the mere idea. Alidoro's announcement that an unknown beauty has arrived makes them nervous. A moment later Cenerentola enters, surrounded by admiring courtiers. The sisters cannot understand the similarity of this elegantly dressed lady to their sister.
Upset by the appearance of the unknown lady, Don Magnifico makes it quite clear to his daughters what a pleasant life he expects to have by their advantageous marriage. Meanwhile, Cenerentola explains to Dandini, whom she still believes to be the Prince, that her heart already belongs to his valet. Ramiro, who has listened to the conversation, steps forward to ask for her hand, but she makes it a condition that he has to search for her and recognise he in her familiar surroundings. Only then, if he still wants to marry her, will she agree. Ramiro prepares for the search. Dandini returns to his position as an attendant and reveals to the stupefied Don Magnifico his true identity.
Again in her rags, Cenerentola is dreaming of true love when her enraged family return from the ball. A storm is gathering and Ramiro and Alidoro use it as an excuse to look for shelter in the Baron's house. Ramiro recognises Cenerentola immediately. Don Magnifico and his daughters give way to their disappointment as the happy couple leave the house, but Alidoro advises them to ask for Cenerentola's forgiveness so as to avoid ruin.
At the wedding, everybody praises Cenerentola's goodness and beauty and she intercedes for her hard-hearted family. Her kindness ends all unhappiness.
The story of Cinderella belongs to the oldest material of fairy-tales. As early as the 15th century, elements of the story are to be found in Europe, and more than a hundred versions exist in China, Turkey, Iraq, Persia, Japan and the Philippines.
Opera and ballet had discovered the story before Rossini composed his score. But in the version of the librettist Giacomo Ferretti, this Cinderella loses much of her fairy-tale magic. In a comment on the libretto he explains why he relinquished the magical transformation and the fitting of the shoe - the theatre of the opening night did not possess the necessary technical equipment to create breathtaking illusions, and furthermore, he did not believe roman audiences would be entertained by the "childishness" of a fairy-tale. Ferretti rather emphasised satirical details, critical of the aristocracy, which were won by the exchange of position between master and servant, and humorous elements of the now sentimental comedy.
The plot is determined by the spirit of the Enlightenment, the fairy becomes a philosopher who manipulates everybody in the story. Like most of the operas of this time. Cenerentola was composed under pressure. Within three weeks the composer has to hand in the score and adapt it, if necessary, according to the wishes of the privileged primadonnas.
On January 25th 1817, La Cenerentola opened at the Teatro Valle in Rome. Rossini "borrowed" the overture seom one of his earlier operas, "La Gazetta", passages from other opera were incorporated, his colleague Agolini contributed some arias - quite a customary practice, which did not dimmish the success. In spite of all that, Cenerentola is the first opera which bears Rossini's trade-marks, the first one which he did not only compose for the success of the moment, but for generations to come.
In the title heroine, Rossini created a lovely girl who introduces herself with a simple song and who becomes, in the course of the opera, a royal lady whose vocal flights, decorated with coloratura, make heavy demands on the signer. The brilliant and witty music dominates over the plot; it uses every occasion to underline the romantic magic of the girl, at the same time also underlining every possible gag.
La Cenerentola impresses also with brilliant ensembles. The singers are combined in helpless anger, surprise or bewilderment, the pompous household of Don Magnifico, the cackling daughters Clorinda and Tisbe, the order of the court which is upside down because of the change of costumes - every comic moment is used. La Cenerentola was for most of Rossini's contemporaries the model example of a comic opera in which all the elements of opera buffa has been created with equal perfection. Never had sentiment and melodic wealth of invention been so well distributed.
I first saw this in May 2004 at the Cambridge Corn Exchange in a production by the Romaian State Opera Brasov.