A Take on the Cinderella Story

One of the gifts of technology is the Met Live performances. Eight or ten times a year, performances of the Metropolitan Opera are simulcast in movie theaters around the world on a Saturday afternoon, with encore performances on Wednesday evenings. For those of us not in New York – and who couldn’t afford to regularly attend the Met even if we did live there – these are a great gift.

Last night Dave and I saw a wonderful performance of Rossini’s La Cenerentola. The singing by Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez in the leading roles was exquisite.

In Rossini’s version of the Cinderella story, Angelina (Cinderalla) has a step-father and two step-sisters. The step-father has squandered her inheritance for the sake of his daughters and all three treat her as a servant. And in place of the fairy godmother, it is an angel from God who aids in getting Angelina to the party being thrown by the prince seeking his bride (a choice on Rossini’s part that surprised and interested me).

But what was most striking was the end. In the original version of the fairy tale – which is much darker than the Disney version we all grew up with, the sister’s suffer for their sins. Here is the ending of the Grimm fairy tale:

When the wedding with the prince was to be held, the two false sisters came, wanting to gain favor with Cinderella and to share her good fortune. When the bridal couple walked into the church, the older sister walked on their right side and the younger on their left side, and the pigeons pecked out one eye from each of them. Afterwards, as they came out of the church, the older one was on the left side, and the younger one on the right side, and then the pigeons pecked out the other eye from each of them. And thus, for their wickedness and falsehood, they were punished with blindness as long as they lived.

In Rossini’s version, although the Prince at one point sings of vengeance against the family who so mistreated Angelina, she pleads with him for mercy. She has nothing but love and forgiveness for the three and a desire for friendship and familial relationship with them. Entitled to revenge, she sings that the only revenge she wants is to forgive. And the step-father and step-sisters are transformed by her love and forgiveness.

It is still a love story – young woman falls in love with the prince, who falls in love with her and they are together in the end. But the real focus is on Angelina’s goodness, mercy and love. It is a story that reminds us that we do not have to return cruelty with cruelty and that love has the power to transform everything.