This month’s opera focus is on another Bel Canto work. La Cenerentola (Cinderella) was written by Rossini in 1817. It took Rossini three weeks to complete the work with the help of borrowing some of his own material of course. It was common for Rossini to reuse his overtures (which he did in this opera) and other arias. Hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?
Anyway, La Cenerentola is an operatic dramma giocoso; translated meaning drama with jokes. While the Grimm Brother’s famous version is anything but joking, the italians version however (Basile 1634) doesn’t hack off toes or peck out eyes. Not to say there aren’t any tragic operas from the Bel Canto period (cough cough Donizetti takes the cake on this one…) but think of all the coloratura you can write if your characters are lovely, charming and over the time cartoony!
I think watching La Cenerentola is going to be easy for the modern day viewer. After Disney’s release of their version of Cinderella in 1950 we are expecting evil step sisters to be ridiculous and obnoxious, Cinderella to be lovely, humble and caring, and the prince to be well, charming. Add beautiful singing, coloratura fireworks and patter singing in there and we’ve got a winning combination.
While I don’t feel the need to give you a synopsis of the classic Cinderella storyline, here are some differences between our beloved Disney version and Rossini’s dramma giocoso.
Other than the obvious… it’s all sung. Ok, that was a dumb dumb obvious. But La Cenerentola is sung in recitative (speech like) to propel the story line and filled with arias, duets, trios, and chorus to enhance the characters and conflict. If you have not experienced an opera with recitative this opera is a great choice. I find the the recitatives are well balanced setting up the the story and then setting up the ensemble or aria to follow.
Ok, let’s talk about the characters in this piece. Obviously we have Cinderella (Angelina), the two step sisters (Clorinda- Soprano and Tisbe- Mezzo Soprano), Prince Ramiro, Dandini (a valet to the prince), Alidoro (a philosopher and the princes former tutor) and Don Magnifico (Cinderella’s step-FATHER).
Wait what? No evil step mother? No fairy godmother? Nope. In this version Cinderella has a step father who puts his obnoxious daughters first. And our ‘fairy godmother’ turns out to be Alidoro; a philosopher. With a few twists and turns Alidoro is the one to actually assist our lovely Cinderella to get her to the ball. The last big difference, the prince recognizes Cinderella not by her shoe but by her bracelet.
Now hold up, why the male dominate cast? Even the chorus is all male. Let’s keep it simple. The opera is called La Cenerentola. It all bases around our leading lady. What better way than to highlight this character throughout the entire opera than to fill the stage with male roles? I’m sure we can dig up sound reasons and support facts as to why we only have three women in this production. We see this in Barber of Seville, Rigoletto, La Traviata. Let’s face it, our heroines are put on a pedestal; I wouldn’t want to tamper with it.
To wrap this up, let’s spoil the ending. I honestly cannot remember if our Disney version Cinderella forgives her evil step mother and sisters for being so cruel. I think she does but is that it? Does she bother to incorporate them into her new life? I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure she marries the prince and says “see ya! you can be the maid!”. But this version our Cenerentola wants to be a family with her step father and sisters. Even after their cruelty she wishes no ill on them. Cinderella is the winner in the end not because she gets the prince, but because she is truly forgiving and loving to her family; even though they would not let he be apart of her family before she became a princess. She turns out to be everything we need from a Cinderella. For that I LOVE this version!