One Cinderella to Rule Them All: Rossini's 'La Cenerentola'

ACT ONE opens in Don Magnifico's rundown mansion, where his daughters Clorinda and Tisbe are primping. Their stepsister, Cinderella, sings a sad song to herself by the fireplace. When a beggar knocks on the door, Cinderella lets him in and feeds him breakfast, unaware that he's actually Alidoro, Prince Ramiro's tutor, in disguise.

Royal courtiers then arrive with news. The prince will throw a party that very night, to meet women from all over the kingdom. He'll then choose one of those women to be his bride. Clorinda and Tisbe are all aflutter — convinced that, surely, one of them will be chosen. Don Magnifico imagines the affluent future he'll enjoy when one of his daughters is selected.

Meanwhile, Alidoro advises Prince Ramiro to check out Magnifico's lowly yet lovely chambermaid, Cinderella. Ramiro shows up disguised as his own valet, and sparks fly when he and Cinderella first meet. Dandini, the real valet, also makes an appearance. He's disguised as the prince, and his job is to gather intelligence. After introducing himself to Clorinda and Tisbe, he asks Don Magnifico about rumors that he also has a third daughter. Coldly, Magnifico lies, saying his other daughter is dead.

To cover up that lie, Magnifico refuses to allow Cinderella to attend the ball. But when Alidoro and Cinderella are left alone, Alidoro reveals his identity and gives Cinderella a personal invitation to the party.

At the palace, with the ball underway, Dandini is still posing as the prince and distracts the crass Magnifico by making him his official wine steward -- it's a sham position, but Magnifico is thrilled. Clorinda and Tisbe continue to snub the real prince, who's still disguised as a servant, and everybody is wowed when a gorgeous and mysterious stranger enters -- a woman who looks remarkably like Cinderella.

As ACT TWO opens, we're still at the palace. Magnifico is worried about his fortunes, but also hopes that the future holds better things. Surely, he thinks, the Prince will pick one of his daughters -- Clorinda or Tisbe -- as his bride. Magnifico daydreams about what his new and prestigious place in society might be like.

Prince Ramiro, still in disguise, asks Cinderella if she will marry him. Shyly, she puts him off. But she hands him a bracelet as she leaves, saying that if he sees her again he'll know her, as she'll be wearing the bracelet's twin. By then, she says, if you still love me, I will be yours.

Ramiro orders Dandini to stop posing as the prince and shut down the party. As he runs off to comply, Dandini is cornered by an impatient Don Magnifico, who rudely insists that the prince decide immediately which of Magnifico's daughters he will marry. Fed up with Magnifico, Dandini reveals that he's merely the prince's valet, and has Magnifico booted out of the palace.

Back at home, Cinderella sings the same sad song that began the opera -- all about a lonely king, choosing a wife.  Her stepsisters are still dumfounded that the Prince didn't choose either of them as his bride. They take out their frustrations on Cinderella -- because she looks exactly like the beautiful stranger from the ball who spoiled all their plans. Outside, there's a violent storm, brilliantly evoked in Rossini's score.

As the weather clears, there's a knock at the door. It seems the Prince was caught in the storm and his carriage has conveniently overturned nearby. That's a secret little snafu engineered by Alidoro. Cinderella and the Prince immediately recognize each other. On her wrist, he spies the twin to the bracelet she gave him. At once, he announces to all present that Cinderella will be his bride.

The stepsisters are outraged, but Alidoro tells them to calm down. Given how they've treated their stepsister, and her future status as a princess, he says they'd be well advised to ask for Cinderella's forgiveness. The Prince is furious at the sisters' behavior -- but he leaves their fate in Cinderella's hands. Fortunately for her family, Cinderella decides not to stoop to their level, and she forgives them. The opera closes with a virtuoso aria for Cinderella, explaining her newfound happiness, as the chorus sings, "Everything changes little by little. At last, stop sighing.”