La Cenerentola - Background


Rossini staged his Barbiere di Siviglia at the Teatro Argentina in Rome in the year 1816. The first performance was sabotaged by the devotees of Paisiello's Barbiere, but it enjoyed growing success, and after several performances it turned into a triumph. The Teatro Valle, a rival theatre in Rome, offered a contract to Rossini for an opera buffa to be staged the following season: Rossini accepted, then returned to Naples where he had his primary engagement with the Teatro San Carlo.

His fulltime contract with Naples allowed Rossini to work for other cities, but he had to arrange these performances on very short time schedules. In December 1816 he went to Rome to write and prepare the new opera. The theatre proposed a libretto by Rossi, on the subject of Francesca di Foix (a subject later set to music by Donizetti in 1831), but the censor vetoed it, a major setback because of the extremely short time available. The theatre manager asked the librettist Jacopo Ferretti to help. Ferretti later wrote a detailed report of the creation of this new work (see the complete Italian text):

Two days before Christmas Day of the year 1816 I was invited by the theatre manager Cartoni and Maestro Rossini for a meeting with the Vatican censor. (...) (The existing libretto) could not be modified in a suitable way, so they begged me to find another subject and write a new libretto on the spot. I said «they begged», and so it was, because there were bad feelings between me and Rossini, due to a little wrong he had previously done me.
(Rossini had refused a libretto by Ferretti the year before, preferring Cesare Sterbini's version of the Barbiere.) Ferretti, however, did not refuse this new opportunity to have a libretto set to music by Rossini: they all went to Cartoni's house "for tea" and Ferretti began to suggest many subjects.
I proposed some twenty or thirty subjects. But one was too dramatic for the carnival season, another too tricky, another required an expensive staging or did not suit the singers (...). Sick of proposals and nearly prostrate with weariness, I yawned: "Cinderella". Rossini, in order to concentrate, was lying on his bed. He abruptly stood up like Alighieri's Farinata and said: «Would you have the heart for writing me a "Cinderella"?» - I replied «And you for setting it to music?», and he asked «when would the draft be ready ?»; and I: «despite my sleepiness, tomorrow morning!»; and Rossini: «good night!»: he wrapped himself in the sheets and fell asleep (...)
Ferretti discussed the financial aspects with a relieved Cartoni, then went home and wrote his first draft. Rossini was satisfied with it, but insisted on stripping all magical elements from the plot. Perrault's fairy tale was the primary source, but it is easy to recognize the influence of the then-famous Neapolitan opera buffa La Cecchina, ossia La buona figliola, by Piccinni on Goldoni's libretto. Piccinni's work is often cited as a milestone in the development of opera buffa, and it was a source of inspiration for many other works: the latest of them (before Cenerentola) was Stefano Pavesi's Agatina, o La virtù premiata (Milan, 1814), on a libretto by Francesco Fiorini. Pavesi's work must have been well-known to Rossini, for it was staged at the Teatro alla Scala in the same season as his Turco in Italia and Sigismondo. In addition, Nicholas Isouard's opera Cendrillon, staged in Paris in 1810, on a libretto by Charles-Guillaume Étienne, must have been known to both Rossini and Ferretti, having been a major success in French theaters.

La Cenerentola did suffer some trouble when staged in French theaters. The substantial differences from Perrault's fairy tale, as well as the popularity of Isouard's competing version of the same subject, led the French critics to be negatively disposed . Of course the favourite argument of its opponents was the "betrayal" of Perrault's ideas. An article in a Paris' paper (Journal des débats, 10 June 1822), criticizes the libretto for the substitution of a bracelet for Cinderella's shoe, jesting that the substitution might have been made for a prima donna with a beautiful arm and ugly feet. Gertrude Righetti Giorgi, for whom the opera had been written, was not amused, and displayed her stage temper in an open letter to the press:

"You miserable people who soil paper to earn undeserved attention from your readers! On Roman stages, it is not permitted to display the same situations that are seen in France. It seemed that decency might be offended by displaying a slipper, and since it was a musical comedy it was easy to substitute a bracelet. But Sig. Parisian Journalist should not think that I say this to defend my feet: he does not know me, and if he did he might say that I have more to gain by adopting the original slipper than by clinging to the bracelet." (Italian Text)

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Monday, 08-Dec-2003 21:42:17 PST