La Cenerentola (Cinderella)
Rossini composed La Cenerentola during an especially busy period that followed The Barber of Seville's premiere in February 1816 at Rome's Teatro Argentina. He was still under contract at the Neapolitan Royal Theaters and had to return for the production of two further works, Il gazzetta (September 26, 1816) and Otello (December 4, 1816). The Naples theater impresario, Domenico Barbaja, had the good sense to give Rossini some latitude in their agreement, and the composer had (unwisely) made another commitment in Rome, this time to the rival Teatro Valle's impresario, Pietro Cartoni, to start the Carnival season on December 26. As Otello had just opened earlier that month, Rossini was in a tight spot, as no libretto had been written, nor had a subject even been chosen.
At first he and librettist Jacopo Ferretti turned to Ninette à la cour, a French comedy inspired by the licentious behavior of infamous womanizer François I (who also would become the model for the Duke of Mantua). And much like Rigoletto would later do, Ninette became a touchy issue with the especially prickly Roman censors (though it was later set as Francesca di Foix by Gaetano Donizetti for Naples). As the deadline was quickly approaching, Cartoni, Rossini and Ferretti sat up late one night brainstorming over hot toddies. After 20 various suggestions, Ferretti threw out Cenerentola (Cinderella), which seemed to pique Rossini's interest. The librettist traded his cocktail for some plain java and worked up a scenario that very night.
Of course, all parties knew of a Cenerentola that had premiered in Milan just two and a half years before — Rossini had had two operas produced at the Teatro alla Scala during the same season and happened to be in there in April 1814, when the work had its premiere. The opera in question was Agatina, o la virtù premiata by Stefano Pavesi, itself a copy of Nicolò Isouard's Cendrillon, which had recently premiered in Paris four years earlier. All of this was perfectly legal, as copyright had yet to become a real legal issue — one only had to live with verbal charges of plagiarism and general discontent among the parties involved. Rossini would raid and eclipse Pavesi a total of five times during his career, in each instance producing a vastly superior work.
Time was of the essence. Cartoni managed to postpone the opening to the end of January, but it was still a formidable undertaking, with both composition and rehearsals to take place in just one month. Ferretti may have had an extant libretto from which to pillage, but Rossini also had a few shortcuts at his disposal. Another composer, Luca Agolini, was brought in to compose the recitatives and also to contribute two arias, Clorinda's "Sventurata! mi credea" and Alidoro's "Vasto teatro è il mondo" (revised by Rossini in 1821 to become "Là del ciel nell'arcano profondo"), and the chorus "Ah! della bella incognita." Rossini also ravaged his other operas for material — from the failed La gazzetta (which likely wouldn't be seen again) he borrowed the overture, and from Barber he assimilated the notoriously difficult (and often cut) Almaviva cabaletta from the end of Act II, "Ah, il più lieto," which he had composed for the celebrated tenor Manuel García. Transposed and embellished further the aria became the title character's brilliant rondò finale "Non più mesta."
The cast was quite tense on opening night — rehearsals had been fast and furious — and much like The Barber of Seville, La Cenerentola was greeted with hostility. The composer was hardly concerned, predicting that within a year, the new opera would be popular around the world. He wasn't far off the mark, and in posterity La Cenerentola would become his second most popular opera after Barber (though Guillaume Tell had a huge following in 19th-century France). Perhaps still smarting from the initial failure of these two comic works, Rossini's interest in opera buffa began to wane — Adina (1818) is a mere one-act farsa and Le comte Ory (1829) is modeled after the French style. Even in Cenerentola we already begin to see seeds of change toward something a little more somber — the sentimental and serious young lovers in pursuit of one another, the doleful timbre of Angelina's recurrent romanza by the fire, "Una volta c'era un re," and the stoically wise and vaguely magical maneuverings of the enlightened filosofo Alidoro all reach beyond the transparent playfulness of buffa style.
Courtesy of The Minnesota Opera