Opera North Blog

Cinderella (La Cenerentola) in a nutshell


Everything you need to know about Cinderella in one place — right here!

Once upon a time…

Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola) tells the same story as the familiar Charles Perrault fairy tale, but with some differences…

Cinderella, bullied and treated as a servant all her life, is scrubbing the floors while her two self-obsessed half-sisters try on dresses, when they hear some exciting news – Prince Ramiro is looking to choose a bride, and is on his way to pay the family a visit! The stepsisters hurry away to get ready, while the Prince quietly arrives disguised as his own valet – he is undercover. He bumps into Cinderella, and both are instantly smitten.

Valet Dandini arrives, posing as the Prince, and invites Don Magnifico and his two daughters to a grand ball at his palace. Despite her pleading, Cinderella is forbidden by her stepfather to join them. Left alone, she is visited by an old beggar man, who reveals himself to be Alidoro, the Prince’s tutor, and tells her that she WILL go the ball, and that her goodness will absolutely be rewarded. Will her identity be revealed? Will the Prince’s? And will goodness finally triumph over evil?

Who are the characters?

Angelina (Cinderella) (mezzo-soprano)
Prince Ramiro (tenor)
Dandini – his valet (baritone)
Don Magnifico – Cinderella’s stepfather (bass)
Alidoro – a philosopher and Prince’s tutor (bass-baritone)
Clorinda – Cinderella’s half-sister (soprano)
Tisbe – Cinderella’s half-sister (mezzo-soprano)

There is also an all-male chorus who, in this production, take the part of party planners and stylists whose job is to source the most eligible bachelorettes for the Prince. They are all dressed as current popular figures – see who you can spot!

What is the music like?

Rossini’s music is often likened to champagne because of its sheer effervescence, and Cinderella is no exception.

The opera is packed full of highlights including Prince Ramiro’s Act II aria ‘Sì, ritrovarla io giuro’, a virtuosic tenor showcase with an incredible five high Cs in it. The showstopper, however, is Cinderella’s aria ‘Non più mesta’, which closes the whole piece. In celebration that goodness has triumphed, Rossini allows his heroine to unleash some serious vocal fireworks, with trills, leaps and superhumanly fast cascades of notes. 

Rossini also has the nickname of ‘Signor Crescendo’ due to his penchant for using an exciting build-up of sound over one repeated phrase. Cinderella’s climatic Act I finale, which incorporates all seven principals and the full force of the orchestra and chorus as the music grows louder and louder, is a perfect example. Hear it below performed by our own Cinderella company: 

What is this production like?

This brand new production by Aletta Collins is full of wit, colour, fun and ballroom dancing! 

Inside the ‘Don Magnifico School of Dance’, sisters Clorinda and Tisbe learn their steps, while their half-sister Cinderella hands out the coats and sweeps the floor. Left alone, Cinderella looks in the mirror of the dance school while daydreaming of a better life, and suddenly sees her own reflection, but wearing a beautiful dress (thanks to some clever video effects)!

As well as innovative staging, look out for some fabulous costumes, including Cinderella’s ball gown, inspired by the dress worn by Grace Kelly in High Society, and Prince Ramiro’s ceremonial uniform, based on our own Prince William.

Who was the composer?

Cinderella was written by Italian composer Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868). Rossini is widely known today for his comic operas, especially The Barber of Seville. However, many of his operas' exhilarating overtures are also performed as standalone orchestral concert pieces, including the overture to Cinderella, and the iconic William Tell overture!

Rossini found success as a composer very young – his first opera was produced and performed in Venice when he was only 18. He worked staggeringly fast, completing most full operatic works within just a few weeks, so that Cinderella, written at the age of 25, was in fact opera number 20! The vivacity of his music made Rossini, during his lifetime, the most popular opera composer there had ever been, and he became a renowned public figure.

“Nothing primes inspiration more than necessity”

So said Gioachino Rossini, and so it was with the birth of his opera Cinderella.

In December 1816, Rossini found himself with the task of writing a brand new piece for the Teatro Valle in Rome and stuck for a subject, as his proposed topic had been vetoed by the papal censor (tut tut). Librettist Jacobo Feretti racked his brains and eventually came up with a suggestion that seemed to pique the (somewhat hard to please) composer’s interest: the famous fairy tale La Cenerentola. The story was well known in Italy, having been published by Italian poet and oral folk tale collector Giambattista Basile in 1634, even before Perrault’s version appeared. However, Rossini had some conditions. It would have to be a non-magical version of the fairy tale, due to limitations with theatrical ‘special effects’. Therefore:

 1. Perrault’s ‘Fairy Godmother’ figure is replaced by Alidoro, a philosopher
 2. The villain is a wicked stepfather rather than stepmother, who deprives Cinderella of her inheritance in order to increase her stepsisters’ dowries
 3. The glass slipper is substituted for a golden bracelet

Both composer and librettist set to work, and the opera, miraculously, premiered only a few weeks later on 25 January 1817. It enjoyed ever increasing popularity during Rossini’s own lifetime, and today is a staple of the operatic repertoire.

Find out more about the differences between Rossini’s Cinderella and the most familiar ‘Disney’ version of the tale in our interview with Wallis Giunta.

Did you know?

  • This production marks the first time Opera North has performed Rossini’s Cinderella since 1983.
  • Rossini was fond of his storm scenes – many of his operas (including Cinderella) include a dramatic storm, illustrated by crashes of thunder from the orchestra (sometimes with thunder sheets) and high-pitched lightning. Incidentally, Cinderella’s Act II storm scene also appears in the score for the popular ballet La fille mal gardée. 
  • Unusually, the leading role of Angelina is written for a mezzo-soprano (a voice type Rossini was a fan of) rather than a soprano. This can make it something of a dream role for a mezzo, who, in opera, spends a lot of time either in supporting roles or playing young boys!
  • Rossini retired early from composing in 1829 at the age of just 37, in order to indulge his passions for cooking and eating! Today, there are a several dishes named "alla Rossini" that were created either by or specifically for him. Well, he had worked very hard, producing 39 operas in 19 years! 

Cinderella is sung in Italian with English titles, and lasts approximately 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval. For more info or to book tickets, visit Cinderella webpage.

In a nutshell is a blog series devised by Opera North. 


Cinderella artwork © Opera North 2016
Cinderella production photography 
© Alastair Muir
Gioachino Rossini, photographed by Étienne Carjat, 1865
Original bill for the premiere of La Cenerentola, 1817

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