When I read Grimms’ Cinderella in a college children’s lit class, I expected glass slippers, a fairy godmother and happily ever after. What I got was gruesome. The wicked stepsisters cut their feet with knives in order to squeeze into that slipper, and then, during Cinderella’s marriage to the prince, pigeons peck out their eyes.
The Disney story I’d imagined was actually drawn from Charles Perrault’s Mother Goose Tales, from the mid-1600s. Somewhere between Perrault’s syrupy sweet version and the Grimms’ ghastly retelling, you’ll find Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella), which Nevada Opera and artistic director Michael Borowitz bring to the stage this weekend at the Pioneer Center.
La Cenerentola is what’s known as a “dramma giocoso,” or cheerful drama—the kind Rossini, author of The Barber of Seville, is best known for. The comic genius always wrote his operas to showcase singers’ vocal abilities, so the music is challenging, engaging and funny, making it enjoyable for both adults and kids. (The 10 percent children’s discount is nice, too.) Although the story is comedic, the opera’s subtitle, “The triumph of virtue,” points to its lesson about forgiveness and kindness of heart.
If you’re new to opera, this is a great one to start with. Yes, it’s in Italian, but subtitles are projected above the stage, and anyone who knows the story of Cinderella should be able to easily follow the opera. Instead of the traditional magical elements, Rossini uses disguise. In La Cenerentola, no one is whom they appear to be.
The beautiful Angelina/ Cenerentola, played by Sarah Blaze, lives with and is forced to be a servant to her stepfather, a mean drunk named Don Magnifico (William Fleck), and his two daughters, Clorinda (Suzanne Woods) and Tisbe (Jessi Baden).
Meanwhile, Prince Ramiro (Todd Wilander) seeks a wife who loves his heart, not his riches. Disguised as a beggar, Ramiro’s tutor, Alidoro (Ashraf Sewailam) sets out to find such a woman. When he comes upon Magnifico’s house, Cenerentola takes him in and feeds him. Because of her kindness, Alidoro plots to bring her and Ramiro together.
Ramiro has cooked up his own plot. He switches clothes with his valet, Dandini (Andrew Garland), and the two go door to door, with Alidoro in tow, to meet women. When he comes upon Cenerentola, the two instantly fall in love, even though she believes he’s the valet. Clorinda and Tisbe, on the other hand, treat him terribly and shower their attention on Dandini, whom they believe is the prince. When asked if his third daughter will be attending the ball, Magnifico replies callously that she died—one of La Cenerentola‘s very real, heartbreaking moments.
Later, Alidoro secretly brings Cenerentola a gown and veil, a disguise that helps her get into the ball. Upon seeing her, the prince, still playing the valet, knows his heart recognizes her.
There’s no slipper here. Instead, Cenerentola hands Ramiro, the valet, a bracelet. If he wants to make her his wife, he must find the bracelet’s owner. She leaves, and Ramiro and Dandini reassume their own identities to begin their search. Of course, Clorinda and Tisbe are horrified by the realization that they had treated the prince so badly. Finally, Ramiro sweeps Cenerentola off her feet and marries her, and she forgives her family for their wrongdoings.
And they all live happily ever after, without a knife or a pigeon in sight.