La Cenerentola, ossia La Bontà in trionfo, a dramma giocoso in two acts to a libretto by Giacomo Ferretti, was first performed at Teatro Valle, Rome, on 25th January 1817.
The singers in the first performances were Giacomo Guglielmi (Ramiro), Giuseppe De Begnis (Dandini), Andrea Verni (Don Magnifico), Caterina Rossi (Clorinda), Teresa Mariani (Tisbe), Geltrude Righetti-Giorgi (Angelina-Cenerentola), Zenobio Vitarelli (Alidoro).
The story is taken from Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle by Charles Perrault, and also from Cendrillon by Charles-Guillaume Etienne and Agatina, o la Virtù premiata by Felice Romani.
The scene is laid in a room on the ground floor of the castle of Don Magnifico, baron of Monte Fiascone. Clorinda and Tisbe, the baron’s two daughters, are dressing themselves and parading in front of a mirror. Cenerentola (Cinderella) – Don Magnifico’s stepdaughter, whose real name is Angelina – has, on the other hand, been relegated to the fireplace as if she were a servant, and there she is now preparing breakfast for her stepfather and stepsisters. She sings a melancholy little song, exasperating her two stepsisters. A beggar knocks at the door, but his ragged clothes conceal Alidoro, a philosopher who is tutor to Don Ramiro, the young Prince of Salerno. Clorinda and Tisbe drive him away, but Cinderella, moved by his plight, gives him some refreshment in the shape of bread and coffee, which greatly angers her stepsisters. Some knights, retainers of Don Ramiro, burst in to announce that the prince, in search of a bride, is about to visit the house and take Don Magnifico’s daughters back to the royal palace with him. This news throws the two stepsisters into a complete frenzy; they say goodbye to the knights, drive the beggar away and order Cinderella to get everything ready for their toilette; their squabbling awakens Don Magnifico, who comes in and roundly scolds his daughters. They have interrupted a magnificent dream he has been having about a donkey who flies through the air and alights upon a bell-tower as if it were a throne; he believes this dream to portend the greatest good fortune for his progeny. When Clorinda and Tisbe tell him about the invitation they have received, Don Magnifico seems to see his dream come true; if one of his daughters were to marry the prince all his pressing economic problems would be resolved. They all go off and now, unobserved, Don Ramiro himself comes into the house, though he is disguised as an equerry; his father’s sudden death has forced him to come back home from his travels, and his father’s will obliges him to get married or risk losing his inheritance. It is Alidoro who has pointed out to him the house in which a suitable bride is to be found, and suggested this disguise, which should help him to discover more about a woman’s character. When he sees Cinderella the prince is enchanted with her simplicity and grace, and she, in her turn, feels attracted to him. On the other hand, the prince is astonished by the absurd figure cut by Don Magnifico, who comes in to welcome him dressed up in his best. But now, preceded by knights, on comes the very person whom everyone believes to be the prince, but who is really Dandini, Don Ramiro’s valet, who has changed places with his master. In grotesquely exaggerated tones he declares himself carried away by the charms of Clorinda and Tisbe, who, on their part, are clearly smitten with him. He escorts them to their carriage. Whilst Don Ramiro, unobserved, listens in, Cinderella begs her stepfather in vain to take her with him to the prince’s palace, even for only a quarter of an hour, but he ridicules her. When Dandini comes back in, Don Magnifico tells him a lie, saying that Cinderella is only a servant of low degree. But now Alidoro comes in, wearing his philosopher’s dress, carrying a register according to which there are three sisters living at Don Magnifico’s house; thrown into confusion, the baron declares that the third sister died young, thus explaining her absence; he threatens Cinderella, who is on the point of revealing the truth, and forces her to be silent; and so they all set off for the ball, except for the poor girl, who is in despair because of her cruel fate. However, Alidoro comes back in, dressed as a beggar once more, and invites the incredulous Cinderella to the royal palace; in order to convince her, he whisks off his beggar’s costume and stands revealed in his philosopher’s dress; then he explains to her how Heaven’s all-seeing eye recognizes and rewards goodness, and he hands her into her carriage.
In a private room of the palace. Dandini, still pretending to be the prince, praises Don Magnifico’s knowledge of fine wines, and invites him to go into the wine cellars, promising him that if he proves capable of tasting thirty bottles, one after the other, without becoming befuddled, he will be named keeper of the royal cellars. Clorinda and Tisbe try to win the favour of the man they presume to be the prince by pointing out to him each other’s faults.
The Winter Garden of the Prince’s Palace. Don Magnifico has passed the test set by the supposed prince, and has therefore been nominated keeper of the cellars. As a first exercise of his authority he dictates to the knights a proclamation, of which six thousand copies are to be put up all over town, prohibiting the dilution of wine with water. All now leave to prepare the feast. Don Ramiro and Dandini come on; the supposed prince tells the supposed valet that the baron’s daughters are a mixture of insolence, whims and vanities; Clorinda and Tisbe run after the supposed prince, and are horrified when Dandini suggest that the one who does not marry the prince should console herself by marrying the valet. Voices are heard calling offstage, and Alidoro announces the arrival of a mysterious veiled lady, provoking jealous rage in the two sisters; and now Cinderella herself enters, splendidly dressed; Dandini begs her to unveil, which she does, and everybody is amazed by her resemblance to Don Magnifico’s humble servant girl; the baron himself, when he joins them, is frozen to the spot, but his daughters reassure him, saying that it could not possibly be Cinderella and that they are not afraid of this new rival. Dandini, who intends to make the most of the privileges accorded by his temporary role as prince at table as well as everywhere else, invites them all to be seated.
A room in Don Ramiro’s palace. The knights make fun of Clorinda and Tisbe, who had each been imagining herself already to ascend the throne, but instead they have been confronted with an unexpected rival in the shape of the mysterious beauty. Don Magnifico is worried by the appearance of the unknown lady who so closely resembles Cinderella; Clorinda and Tisbe comfort him by describing the prince’s attentions towards them, and he imagines his new life at court, surrounded by humble suppliants all willing to disburse large tips in exchange for his favour and recommendations. Meanwhile Dandini attempts to pay court to Cinderella, who rejects him, telling him that she is in love with his valet. Don Ramiro, who has been listening in to this conversation from a hiding-place, is overjoyed that Cinderella prefers the valet to the prince, but now the mysterious lady forces him to accept her conditions: he will have to search for her, and when he has found her in her true setting, he may marry her if he still wants to; when she bids him goodnight she gives him one of her twin bracelets, saying that she will keep the other by her as a means of recognition. Struck by her words, and realizing that he is in love with her, Don Ramiro decides to become prince once more, to empty his palace of the arrogant women who have been over-running it, and to fly at once in search of Cinderella. To Dandini is entrusted the job of enlightening Don Magnifico, revealing that the supposed prince is merely a valet; in this way the disappointed and outraged baron learns that his hopes of becoming related to the prince through marriage are nothing but a cruel joke, and that he must leave the palace at once.
A ground-floor room with a fireplace in Don Magnifico’s house. Cinderella, back in her old clothes and by the fireplace once more, is singing her sad song and toying with her one remaining bracelet; Don Magnifico and the stepsisters come back home, furious at the way things have turned out and suspicious of the strange resemblance between the mysterious lady and Cinderella. Outside a storm is raging, causing a carriage to be overturned; it is Don Ramiro’s, and he and Dandini, once more back in their true positions of master and man, knock at Don Magnifico’s door. They are received with all due pomp by the baron, whose matrimonial hopes begin to revive; now Cinderella discovers that the man she thought a valet is in fact the prince, and Don Ramiro realizes that she is the mysterious lady, recognizing the bracelet on her wrist. The general amazement gives way to the wrath of the baron and his daughters, who cannot accept the fact that the prince has fallen in love with their servant; Don Ramiro is incensed with them, but Cinderella persuades him to forgive their hasty words and let goodness triumph; the prince takes her off to his palace. Alidoro, who has been pulling the wires throughout the entire affair, suggests that Clorinda and Tisbe should kneel before the throne and beg for forgiveness for all their violent treatment of Angelina in the past. Clorinda bemoans her unhappy fate, but, trusting in her youth, is sure that despite all she will succeed in finding herself a husband to take care of her.
A hall decorated with flowers and lights. The marriage of Angelina and the prince is being celebrated; Don Magnifico and the stepsisters grovel before the girl. But Cinderella is not interested in revenge; she embraces and forgives them, all their maltreatment of her swept away and forgotten by the rapid change in her fortunes.