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

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Edgardo Rocha (Don Ramiro) and Serena Malfi (Cenerentola) in La Cenerentola.She's a fairy tale heroine with many different names, including Cendrillon, Cenerentola, Aschenputtel -- and Cinderella. Yet whatever she's called, almost everyone knows her story. She's the innocent girl who escapes from her dangerously dysfunctional family, and winds up marrying a handsome prince.

The version of the story we know best today originated with French writer Charles Perrault, who published a story called "Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper" in 1697. The Brothers Grimm wrote their version in 1812, and the electronic age produced the animated film by Disney in 1950.

Those of a certain age may remember Disney's movie from childhood matinees at the local theater. What we may not remember is that our parents, sitting alongside, were having just as much fun as the kids. That's because, along with its innocent charm, the story also has a healthy dose of adult passions and foibles.

So it's not surprising that the tale has turned up not just at the movies and on TV, but also at the opera. In fact, Cinderella is one of those stories so "right" for opera that it's been prime material for a couple of great composers.

Massenet wrote a shimmering Cinderella opera called Cendrillon that was neglected for a long time, and is finally getting its due. Still, despite the growing popularity of Massenet's score, when it comes to telling the Cinderella story, there's another opera that rules the roost.

Gioachino Rossini was a master of bubbly comedies, deepened by poignant moments scattered among the laughs, a formula that works perfectly in his 1817 hit La Cenerentola. It's one of Rossini's funniest operas, yet it also has a serious side. In this version, there's no glass slipper and no magic pumpkin -- and Cinderella's happy ending isn't just a gift from some benevolent fairy. On her journey from servant's quarters to a royal throne she faces some real dangers. In overcoming them she displays a gentle and tolerant spirit, some profoundly adult insights, and the pluck and courage to defy everyone who stands in her way.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents La Cenerentola from the Lausanne Opera in Switzerland.  The stars are mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi as Cinderella and tenor Edgardo Rocha as her prince, Ramiro, with bass-baritone Alexandre Diakoff as Cinderella's buffoonish father, Don Magnifico. The production is led by conductor Stefano Ranzani.


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