February 02, 2024

Cinderella: A tale across time

People from across the globe are familiar with the timeless tale of Cinderella, from Yè Xiàn and Cenerentola to Aschenputtel and Cendrillon. As time passes, the story morphs to reflect the time period and the wishes of the creators. In 2024, more than 300 years after the 17th century's most prominent telling reached notoriety, what defines Cinderella? Past iterations of this iconic tale are key components to how we see the character and her story today.

Rossini's Cinderella, 1817

First created in 1817, Gioachino Rossini's Cinderella (La Cenerentola) is a unique twist on the classic narrative of Cinderella, with titular character Angelina taking the place of Cinderella. Upon hearing that Prince Ramiro is looking for a spouse, Angelina's greedy stepfather Don Magnifico attempts to marry her off to Prince Ramiro to increase his own fortunes. Captivating twists and turns distinguish Rossini's Cinderella as a worthy reproduction of the time-tested story.

Lyric Opera of Chicago's latest production of Cinderella — its first of the classic Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production in more than two decades — features Vasilisa Berzhanskya in the title role, Jack Swanson as her prince charming, Don Ramiro, the veteran Alessandro Corbelli as Don Magnifico, and Yi-Chen Lin on the podium. Across countries and time periods, Cinderella has maintained its role in the cultural zeitgeist as a spellbinding tale with an intriguing narrative for all ages.

Perrault's Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre, 1697

One of earliest literary versions of the well-known tale, Charles Perrault's Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre embellishes the traditional narrative of Cinderella with the characteristic fantastical elements that now define the story: the pumpkin, the fairy-godmother, and the slippers. Perrault's story sets itself apart from past tellings through its clever interwoven lessons on morality, but its happy-ever-after ending remains a common staple of the Cinderella narrative.

Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, 1957 & 2013

The television adaptation of Cinderella hit U.S. stages in 1957 as a musical-romance. Cinderella is mistreated and neglected by her relatives, similar to other adaptations. When Cinderella finally gets a moment of peace, she bemoans her existence as a maid and expresses her wishes to be a princess — or anything other than a servant. The Fairy Godmother comes along and grants Cinderella's wish, allowing her the night at the ball that inspires the Prince's affection for her. The story then embraces the fantasy, romance, and excitement that is apparent in many of the other folktales.

The original Rodgers and Hammerstein musical became source material for a 2013 Broadway revival, which introduced a slightly different dynamic between Cinderella and her Prince Charming, or Prince Topher. When Cinderella finally meets the prince, she chooses to tell him to "open [his] eyes" to what's happening around his kingdom. The townsfolk are starving and unhappy; background scenes of revolutionary protest illuminate their struggles and provide broader context for the canonical universe. Despite these hiccups, Cinderella still gets her happily ever after with Prince Topher at the end of the musical.

Massenet's Cendrillon, 1899

Jules Massenet's opera, created with a libretto by Henry Cain, begins with a message to the audience that urges them to "escape from dark realities" (pour échapper à des réalités sombres) through their observation of the performance. After Cendrillon's well-known escape from the ball, she ends up leaving her home in sadness and resigning herself to death in the nearby forest. Cendrillon encounters Le Prince Charmant (Prince Charming) and embraces him, before they both fall into an enchanted sleep. Cendrillon then wakes up and is told that she had fallen ill, talking of enchanted balls and magical fairies in her fevered sleep. She is nearly convinced that the entire night was all a dream, until she sees Le Prince Charmant's summons for maidens to try on the glass slipper she left behind. Despite the tension and suspense cultivated throughout Cendrillon, the story ends with Cendrillon and Le Prince Charmant reuniting and proclaiming their love for the entire kingdom to witness. Massenet and Cain's work on the opera culminated a few years prior to its official premiere in 1899. Later that same year, Cendrillon was released as a six-minute silent film.

Grimm's Aschenputtel, 1812

Aschenputtel ("The Little Ash Girl"), written by the Brothers Grimm, is a more violent and brutalistic twist on the romantic tale. Cinderella is mourning the loss of her mother and places a branch near her mother's grave; after the young woman unknowingly waters the sapling with her tears, the plant grows into a tree. Every time Cinderella visits the tree, she is able to request a wish. After wishing for a gorgeous dress, Cinderella attends the ball and dances with the prince. When Cinderella leaves behind a golden slipper as she runs away, the prince takes it and proclaims that he will find her using it. The stepsisters, who know the slipper will not fit them, mutilate their feet under their mother's guidance in order to fit into the slipper. Despite their efforts, the prince is not swayed and eventually finds Cinderella, realizing that she is the maiden from the ball. While the pair live happily ever after, the stepsisters' brash actions and willingness to inflict pain on themselves are demonstrative of a maleficent greed lying hidden in the background of the well-known story.

Walt Disney's Cinderella, 1950

The 1950 movie is a classic that many audiences continue to watch today. Lady Tremaine, the stepmother of Cinderella, takes a more antagonistic role in the film, as she nearly sabotages Cinderella's chances at reuniting with Prince Charming by breaking the glass slipper. Thankfully, Cinderella reveals that she has possession of the other slipper and the pair share a romantic carriage ride towards their honeymoon. Disney's Cinderella is one of the most prevalent stories in popular culture.

Disney's Cinderella, 2015

The Walt Disney Studios returned to the tale of Cinderella in this live-action romance-fantasy movie with Lily James as Ella, the downtrodden daughter of a rich merchant who is taken in by her stepmother and her two daughters. Similar to other stories, Ella earns the nickname "Cinderella" after her relatives find her with cinder on her face, earned from her slumber near the fireplace. The 2015 movie takes inspiration from both Disney's animated 1950 movie and Cendrillon, with beautiful visuals and a happy ending for all ages.

JANUARY 21 - FEBRUARY 10, 2024



Rossini's fairy tale opera Cinderella follows the love story of downtrodden Cenerentola and disguised Prince Ramiro with a sparkling score and hilarious antics. This renowned production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle will feature rising stars Vasilisa Berzhanskaya and Jack Swanson alongside veteran baritone Alessandro Corbelli, under the baton of Yi-Chen Lin.

Header photo: The cast of Lyric's 2022/23 production of Rossini's Cinderella, credit: Michael Brosilow