Cinderella

MUSIC BY Gioachino Rossini

Libretto by Jacopo Ferretti

SAN FRANCISCO OPERA PRODUCTION

Thanks to her open heart and determination, Cinderella triumphs over her mean-spirited relatives in Rossini’s sparkling version of the story. Karine Deshayes, lauded for her “emotional depth and vibrant, beautiful sound” (The New York Times), makes her San Francisco Opera debut in the beloved fairy tale about a gentle but courageous servant girl who catches the eye of a handsome prince. In San Francisco Opera’s charming and heartwarming production, esteemed Spanish conductor Jesús López-Cobos leads a superb cast. The elegant and exciting René Barbera debuts as the prince alongside the “beautifully voiced” (San Francisco Classical Voice) Efraín Solis as the prince’s valet Dandini; Spanish baritone Carlos Chausson is Cinderella's evil stepfather.

San Francisco Opera's Education Department will offer Family Workshops preceding select performances of Cinderella.

For a complete list of all performances of Cinderella at San Francisco Opera, visit our online performance archive.

Sung in Italian with English supertitles
Approximate running time: 3 hours including one intermission

Pre-Opera Talks are free to ticketholders and take place in the Opera House in the Orchestra section, 55 minutes prior to curtain.

San Francisco Opera production

Audio excerpts are from the 1974 performance of 
Cinderella with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Sir John Pritchard.
Un soave non so che”/Ugo Benelli (Don Ramiro), Frederica von Stade (Cinderella); “Come un’ape ne’ giorni d’aprile”/Renato Capecchi (Dandini); “Dolce speranza”/Ugo Benelli, Chorus; “Non più mesta”/Frederica von Stade, Chorus


Cast

Angelina (Cinderella) Karine Deshayes *
Don Ramiro René Barbera *
Dandini Efrain Solis
Don Magnifico Carlos Chausson *
Alidoro Christian Van Horn
Clorinda Maria Valdes *
Tisbe Zanda Svede *

Production Credits

Conductor Jesús López-Cobos
Director Gregory Fortner *
Production Jean Pierre Ponnelle
Lighting Designer Gary Marder
Chorus Director Ian Robertson

* San Francisco Opera Debut

Synopsis

ACT I

In the run-down castle of Don Magnifico, his daughters Clorinda and Tisbe are in the middle of one of their usual arguments. Their stepsister Angelina, called Cenerentola, who serves as the family maid, sings her favorite song about a king who married a common girl. There is a knock on the door and Alidoro, tutor to the prince Don Ramiro, enters, dressed as a beggar. The stepsisters want to send him away, but Cenerentola gives him bread and coffee. Courtiers arrive to announce that Ramiro will soon pay a visit: he is looking for the most beautiful girl in the land and will hold a ball to choose his bride. Magnifico hopes that it will be one of the stepsisters: marriage to a wealthy man is the only way to save the family fortune. When the room is empty, Ramiro enters alone, dressed in his servant’s clothes so he can freely observe the prospective brides. Alidoro has told him that there is a girl in the house worthy to be a princess, and Ramiro is determined to find out who she is. Cenerentola returns and is startled by the presence of a stranger. The two are immediately attracted to each other. He asks her who she is, and Cenerentola stammers a confused explanation, then runs away. Finally, the “prince” arrives—in fact Ramiro’s valet, Dandini, in disguise. To Ramiro’s amusement, Magnifico, Clorinda, and Tisbe fall over themselves flattering this prince, who invites them to the ball. Cenerentola asks to be taken along but Magnifico refuses. Ramiro notes how badly Cenerentola is treated. Alidoro reenters with information that there is a third daughter in the house but Magnifico claims she has died. Left alone with Cenerentola, Alidoro tells her he will take her to the ball and explains that God will reward her good heart.

At Ramiro’s country house, Dandini shares with the prince his negative opinion of the two sisters. But both men are confused, since Alidoro has spoken well of one of Magnifico’s daughters. Clorinda and Tisbe appear again, having followed Dandini who still poses as the prince. When he offers Ramiro as a husband to the sister the prince does not marry, they are outraged at the idea of marrying a servant. Alidoro enters with a beautiful unknown lady who strangely resembles Cenerentola. Unable to make sense of the situation, they all sit down to supper, feeling as if they are in a dream.

ACT II

Magnifico fears that the arrival of the stranger could ruin his daughters’ chances to marry the prince. Cenerentola, tired of being pursued by Dandini, tells him that she is in love with his servant. Overhearing this, Ramiro is overjoyed and steps forward. Cenerentola, however, tells him that she will return home and doesn’t want him to follow her. If he really cares for her, she says, he will find her. The prince resolves to win the mysterious girl.
Meanwhile Magnifico, who still thinks that Dandini is the prince, confronts him, insisting that he decide which of his daughters he will marry. Dandini first advises him to be patient, then reveals that he is in fact the prince’s servant. Magnifico is furious.

Magnifico and the sisters return home in a bad mood and order Cenerentola, again in rags, to prepare supper. During a thunderstorm, Alidoro arranges for Ramiro’s carriage to break down in front of Magnifico’s castle so that the prince has to take refuge inside. Cenerentola and Ramiro recognize each other as the various parties comment on the situation. When Ramiro threatens Magnifico and his daughters who are unwilling to accept defeat, Cenerentola asks him to forgive them.

At the prince’s palace, Ramiro and Cenerentola celebrate their wedding. Magnifico tries to win the favor of the new princess, but she asks only to be acknowledged at last as his daughter. Born to misfortune, she has seen her life change and invites her family to join her, declaring that the days of sitting by the fire are over.

The Triumph of Cenerentola

Julian Budden

Rossini’s La Cenerentola shares with Massenet’s Werther, Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, and Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette the distinction of being its composer’s second most popular opera, and like them it explores quite different territory from the first. While II Barbiere di Siviglia is a classic unclouded comedy, Rossini’s version of the Cinderella story, as might be expected, carries a charge of pathos behind the laughter.


For Rossini in his mid-twenties, creative self-renewal was not a problem. In 1817 he composed four operas, each in a different vein: La Cenerentola and Adelaide di Borgogna for Rome; the opera semiseria (“semi-serious”) La Gazza Ladra for Milan; and Armida, a heroic-fantastic opera for Naples. Indeed, the commission to write an opera to be given during the Carnival season of 1816–17 at the Teatro Valle, Rome, found him fully occupied with a previous commitment, namely Otello, planned for performance at the Teatro del Fondo, Naples, early in December. Therefore, the clause in his contract that required his presence in the last days of October, the delivery of Act I by the end of November, and Act II by mid-December remained a dead letter.

Meanwhile, a libretto had already been chosen: Gaetano Rossi’s Nina Alia Corte, evidently derived from the French comedy Francesca de Foix. The Roman censors, however, deemed it immoral and so the librettist Jacopo Ferretti was brought in to clean up the text. But both he and Rossini declared this to be impossible without making nonsense of the plot. The stalemate continued until three days before the opera was due to open. Ferretti was summoned to the home of the impresario Pietro Cartoni, where Rossini was lodging. He himself takes up the story:

There we sat drinking tea all through that bitterly cold evening. I suggested twenty or thirty subjects for an opera, but one was considered too solemn since in Carnival time the Romans wanted a good laugh; another was rejected as being too complicated and another too expensive for the management’s purse... and another was unsuitable for the company engaged. Tired of making suggestions and practically falling asleep, I murmured in the middle of a yawn: “Cinderella.” Rossini, who had lain down on the bed in order the better to concentrate, sat bolt upright. “Would you be prepared to write me a Cinderella?” he asked. “And would you be prepared to set it to music?” I asked in my turn. “When can I have the program?” “Tomorrow morning, if I can keep awake.” “Good night,” and with that he wrapped himself in the bedclothes, stretched out his limbs and fell into a blessed sleep like that of Homer’s gods. I took another cup of tea, arranged my fee, shook Cartoni by the hand and hurried off home. There, a cup of good strong black coffee took the place of Jamaican tea. Several times I measured the length and breadth of my bedroom with folded arms; and when, as God willed it, I had the picture before me, I wrote down the program and next day sent it to Rossini. He was quite happy with it.

Ferretti had intended to call his opera Angiolina, or the Triumph of Goodness. But again the censors objected, since Angiolina was the name of a well-known society beauty of the time who had indeed enjoyed many a “triumph,” but who could have retorted along with Mae West, “Goodness had nothing to do with it, honey!”  So he settled for Cenerentola prefixed by the definite article—the traditional Italian way of indicating a character of myth.

Rossini set to work at once, composing each number as it reached him and putting the finishing touches to the duet “Un segreto d’importanza” the night before the opening. Given the need for haste, it is understandable that he should have indulged in a little self-borrowing. The overture is identical to La Gazzetta, a comic opera written for Naples the previous year. The music, however, has a certain relevance to its new context since the “crescendo” theme—Rossini’s method of steadily turning up the volume and level of activity to the point where all the singers plus full orchestra are at full sound—is quoted in the Act I finale. Cenerentola’s concluding “Non più mesta” began life as a virtuoso cabaletta for Almaviva preceding the finale to II Barbiere di Siviglia; but as it quickly dropped out of performances there was no danger in transplanting it to La Cenerentola.

La Cenerentola had its premiere on January 25, having been written and rehearsed in just more than four weeks. The cast included Geltrude Righetti-Giorgi, who had created Rosina in II Barbiere the previous year, and the buffo baritone Giuseppe De Begnis, lately married to one of the great prima donnas of the age, Giuseppina Ronzi. Like II Barbiere, the opera was received badly at first, mainly because the cast had not had time to master its technical difficulties. But Rossini was undismayed. “Before the Carnival season has ended,” he assured Ferretti, “everyone will have fallen in love with it.” Within two years, he predicted, it would be the delight of France and the wonder of England; prima donnas and impresarios would fight to get their hands on it. He was not mistaken.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, La Cenerentola vied in popularity with II Barbiere; thereafter, it fell behind. Rossini’s biographer, Giuseppe Radiciotti, whose monumental, three-volume study is, alas, out of print, ascribed its subsequent neglect to the libretto—“a hybrid confection of the probable with the improbable, the good with the less than mediocre, the highfalutin’ with the vulgar... faults that are naturally reflected in the music.”
A more likely reason is the vocal character of the heroine, a flexible contralto whose part lends itself less easily to upward transposition than does that of Rosina, sometimes assigned to a soprano. After 1850, contraltos and low mezzo-sopranos tended to become typecast as mother figures, such as Fides in Meyerbeer’s Le Prophete, Azucena in II Trovatore, and La Cieca in La Gioconda. Their rich, velvety tones were best exploited outside the theater in pieces like Mendelssohn’s “O Rest in the Lord” or Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody. It was the Spanish contralto Conchita Supervia, active in the 1930s, who first reminded us that the lower female voice is capable of all the agility of a coloratura soprano. Nowadays, it is the old-fashioned “oratorio” contralto that has become a rarity, while coloratura mezzo-sopranos can be found in every corner of the world.

Rossini’s was not the first musical setting of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale. It had been the subject of a comic vaudeville of 1759 by the French composer Laurette. In 1810 the Maltese Niccolò Isouard produced a Cendrillon that for a time became the rage of Paris, and which many years later the Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick pronounced superior to Rossini’s work. But it was Felice Romani’s libretto for Stefano Pavesi’s Agatina, Ossia La Virtu Premiata (1814) that would serve Ferretti as a model. Romani first turned Perrault’s “conte” into a modern comedy of manners with no pumpkin coach and no fairy godmother, but instead a philosopher who makes all the necessary arrangements. For the slipper he substituted a rose, which in Ferretti’s libretto became a bracelet. It was Romani, too, who abolished the odious Madame de la Haltiere, Cinderella’s stepmother, for the very reason that in Italian opera of the time, mothers—step- or otherwise—are traditionally saintly and usually dead. The villain of the piece is therefore the stepfather. This likewise conforms to the conventions of the mixed genre to which La Cenerentola essentially belongs, and in which the basso buffo (“comic bass”) is not just an old booby, easily duped, but downright malevolent. In the present opera he combines both characteristics in full measure. Again it was Romani who invented the valet Dandini, with whom the Prince exchanges clothes in order to test the respective characters of the three daughters.

All this, according to Romani’s biographer Mario Rinaldi, amounts to a “huge plagiarism” on Ferretti’s part. But we should remember that librettists were not expected to show originality of thought, the best of them being content to aim at “what oft was said but ne’er so well expressed.” Ferretti’s verse is as sharp and vivid as Romani’s and his humor, far from lapsing into vulgarity, it is often refreshingly modern. Indeed if Ferretti never achieved the fame of his predecessor, that was partly because he seems to have confined his activity to Rome.

The first three decades of the nineteenth century were the age of virtuosity par excellence. The castrato—a singer castrated in boyhood to preserve the soprano or contralto range of his voice—had almost vanished from the scene, but the expressive value associated with his voice type still prevailed. In opera seria (“serious opera”) his place was at first taken by the female contralto, with her propensity for cool heroics. Not until the 1830s did the tenor hero become the rule, singing throughout in the natural register of his voice. In opera buffa (“comic opera”) and semiseria he had long held sway as the juvenile lead; but it was a lighter tenor that did so, with a technique that permitted him to rise to high D and E flat in what was then called “falsetto” (today we would call it “head voice”). Together with the other voices he was required to command total flexibility. All this made possible a certain “instrumentalization” of the voice such as Rossini exploits to delightful effect in the sextet from La Cenerentola (“Questo è un nodo avviluppato”) with its threads of coloratura passing from one singer to another.

But let no one think that the opera is all vocal mechanics. Within the conventions of the time, many of which were of Rossini’s own forging, the characters are convincingly drawn; nor are they two-dimensional. The duet “Un soave non so che” between Cenerentola and Don Ramiro perfectly evokes the dawn of young love. But it is a more mature Prince who sings in Act II “Sì, ritrovarla io giuro,” a heroic aria in three short movements similar to what Rossini had brought on the protagonist of his Otello. Don Magnifico alternates between pomposity and chattering buffoonery with moments of cruel sarcasm when addressing Cenerentola. Dandini has something of the amused detachment of Figaro, relishing to the full his royal disguise (“Come un’ape ne’ giorni d’aprile”), not to mention his unmasking before the outraged Don Magnifico in the buffo duet of Act II (“Un segreto d’importanza”).

Moreover, the drama is beautifully paced. Within the compass of a single number, the “introduzione,” we are shown the shallowness and vanity of the two stepsisters (there is no need for them to be ugly) and the sad simplicity of Cenerentola, depicted in her somber, minor-key ditty (“Una volta c’era un re”). Not only that, the same piece finds room for her first encounter with Alidoro, who has come to the door disguised as a beggar. Clorinda and Tisbe chase him away, but not before Cenerentola has had time to slip him a mite of breakfast, only to receive a slap from the sisters. A few moments later a chorus of knights brings the invitation to the Prince’s ball; at once Cenerentola is sent scurrying hither and yon to fetch fine clothes and jewelry. Thus from the outset we do not have to take the heroine’s kindness and subjection for granted; we have already seen both in action, and the interest gains accordingly. Indeed, the title role is unusually varied and wide-ranging in its expression, combining sorrow and dignity with occasional flashes of spirit. Her final aria (“Nacqui all’affanno”) envelops the scene in a glow of tenderness and so makes a fitting conclusion to what Rossini biographer Richard Osborne rightly calls one of the richest and most humane of the composer’s scores.
 
Julian Budden, the late internationally renowned musicologist, was the author of a landmark three-volume series, The Operas of Verdi. This article previously appeared in San Francisco Opera Magazine.

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A Classic Fairytale

Jane Ganahl

The name “Cinderella” is so commonly known that it is now part of the lexicon. Who doesn’t know what a “Cinderella story” is? A put-upon underdog triumphing over great odds? The trope is so adored by American culture that it is firmly embedded in our favorite books and countless movies.

 
Despite its quirky elements, this tale has endured in popularity since it first was recorded two thousand years ago. That original story was Rhodopis, etched into record by the Greek historian Strabo in the 1st century B.C., about a Greek slave girl who loses a shoe when an eagle snatches it and drops it into the lap of a king. The king searches for the owner of the shoe and marries her.
 
Since then, the kernel of the Cinderella myth has enjoyed hundreds, if not thousands, of versions—from classic folk tales to ballets and opera, from musicals to movies. It’s been parodied and deconstructed (i.e. Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s dubious Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella); it’s been a G-rated animated bit of Disney confection, and a violent fairy tale in other parts of the world. Almost every culture has its own version, and because the myth is handily adaptable by any culture, it has endured like perhaps no other fairy tale in history.
 
Perhaps the second-oldest recorded story employing Cinderella archetypes was Yeh-Shen, a Chinese fairy tale from the 9th century. A younger daughter (Yeh-Shen) is forced to work as a servant after the death of her father, but is befriended by a magic fish. The fish is killed by her cruel stepmother, but Yeh-Shen uses its bones to conjure magic—including a beautiful gown and golden slippers to wear to a New Year’s ball. She meets the prince and after much searching, he finds and rescues her.
 
One of the earliest European versions was Cenerentola, by Giambattista Basile, was published in 1634. Cenerentola is a young girl badly used by a wicked stepmother and stepsisters, and it features magical transformations, a missing slipper, and search by a prince.  
 
Charles Perrault is believed to be the author, in the 1690s, of our “modern” 300-year-old Cinderella, the French Cendrillon. Written in 1697, it was enormously popular, thanks no doubt to Perrault’s addition of such magical elements as the transmogrifying pumpkin, the fairy godmother and the iconic glass slippers. In the end, the wicked stepsisters are forgiven, but their fate is not as benign in other versions.
 
Another popular telling, “Aschenputtel,” came from 19th century Germany by the Brothers Grimm, where the magic is wrought by a wishing tree and a white dove, not by a fairy godmother. The virtuous daughter is given the name of “Aschenputtel” (Ash Fool) by her cruel stepsisters—who are ultimately neither forgiven nor allowed to go their merry way. The sisters try cutting off parts of their feet to squeeze into the glass slipper, with the dripping blood give away their treachery. Not content with mere maiming, the Grimm brothers’ white dove blinds the sisters after the wedding. Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods also employs this gruesome element.
 
Perhaps more gruesome still are international versions of Cinderella that only bear passing resemblance to the English language standard. In the Vietnamese version Tam Cam, Tam boils her stepsister alive and then tricks her stepmother into eating her. In a Korean version, Cinderella is drowned in a river by her stepsister, who disguises herself to marry the king. After the king finds out, he puts the stepsister to death and feeds her to the unknowing stepmother.
 
It’s understandable why Disney chose a more benign version of the story when animating his film for children.
 
Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola borrows from the Perrault version but blazes its own path, doing away with the wicked stepmother role, and instead installing a wicked stepfather as the antagonist. There is little violence but amusing interplay in various scenes involving mistaken identity. No one perishes in the end, and all is forgiven. 
 
As the Cinderella story landed in the latter half of the 20th century, it received some makeovers. A 1978 TV musical Cindy was set in Harlem and featured an all-black cast, with songs that reflected the era’s racial and cultural struggles. The 1998 film Ever After starred Drew Barrymore and allowed Cinderella to be strong-willed, intelligent and well-read—not passively waiting for rescue. And 2004’s A Cinderella Story, starring Hillary Duff, has achieved cult status by breaking so firmly with the fairy tale’s elements: she outwits her foes while realizing her dream of a higher level of education to change her life situation.  
 
Cinderella may graduate or marry, and evolve over time, but to those of us who have loved the fairy tale in all its incarnations since we were children, her story is timeless.

Jane Ganahl has been a journalist, author, editor, and producer in San Francisco for more than three decades. She is the co-founder of Litquake, the West Coast’s largest independent literary festival, author of the memoir naked on the Page, and contributor to many magazines.


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"Don't miss Karine Deshayes in Cinderella! Go hear her marvelous performance."

  –San Jose Mercury News
"Cinderella proves a delightful fairy tale.... bursting with wit and vitality."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
"Deshayes turned in a performance that grew continuously in strength and forcefulness, leading up to the big display of vocal fireworks...a potent combination of sensitivity and coloratura mastery."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
René Barbera portrayed the prince with "sweet lyricism and knock-your-socks-off high notes."

  –San Jose Mercury News
"The hero was the Spanish bass-baritone Carlos Chausson, whose formidable Company debut as Don Magnifico infused the performance with uproarious vitality and vocal heft."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
"Jesús Lopez-Cobos' return was welcome from the very first beat of his baton.... the overture set high expectations for what would follow and those expectations were never disappointed."

  –Examiner.com
"To see once again those Sendak-esque storyboard sets, or the men’s chorus prancing about in their red jackets and top hats, was to revisit a lost fairy-tale world of magic and imagination."

San Francisco Chronicle

In 'Nacqui all’affanno,' Deshayes "exuberantly dispatched the tune's bel canto runs with cut-glass precision, vaulting upward to skewer sparkling, sustained high notes. It was beautiful singing: easy, shapely and assured."

San Jose Mercury News
 
"Deshayes is not only a classy singer—an haute couture shaper of musical phrases—but a poignant actor. She handled the transformation of the downtrodden maid with heart and much grace."

San Jose Mercury News
 
"Barbera deployed a bright, elegant sound that was clear but not too piercing, and he brought star power to his Act 2 aria while still blending impeccably in the ensembles."

San Francisco Chronicle
 
"Chausson's singing was robust and beautifully integrated, his comic timing near perfect and his characterization a deft blend of buffoonery and sympathy."

San Francisco Chronicle
 
"As Alidoro, bass-baritone Christian Van Horn was in vibrant voice."

San Jose Mercury News
 
"But this Cinderella might serve as an advertisement for the Adler Fellowship, with splendid contributions from baritone Efraín Solís as the Prince’s valet and stand-in Dandini, and from Maria Valdes and Zanda Švēde — comically attuned, vocally resplendent — as the wicked stepsisters." 

  –San Francisco Chronicle

Karine Deshayes

Watch Paris Opera's 2013 trailer of this beautiful production of Rossini's Cinderella starring Karine Deshayes.

PERFORMANCES

  • Sun 11/9/14 2:00pm *

  • Thu 11/13/14 7:30pm

  • Sun 11/16/14 2:00pm *

  • Tue 11/18/14 7:30pm

  • Fri 11/21/14 7:30pm *

  • Wed 11/26/14 7:30pm *



*OperaVision, HD video projection screens featured in the Balcony level for this performance, is made possible by the Koret/Taube Media Suite.

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This production is made possible, in part, by Chevron.
Cast, program, prices and schedule are subject to change.