Massenet’s Cendrillon

Event: Massenet’s Cendrillon
Date: April 28, 2018, 12:55 pm
Run Time: 2 hours 47 minutes
Ticket Info: Tickets available at the door and online

Tickets for Cendrillonper adult • $22.00 online

Tickets for Cendrillonper student • $11.00 online


Pandolfe, a country gentleman, has married Madame de la Haltière, an imperious countess. She and her daughters, Noémie and Dorothée, bully Pandolfe’s daughter from his first marriage, Lucette—known as Cendrillon.

The household prepares for a ball to be given at the Court that evening. Pandolfe bemoans his lot: married to a nagging wife who ill-treats his daughter. Madame de la Haltière instructs her daughters on how to behave at the ball. She refuses to let Cendrillon attend the festivities or to let her father say goodbye to her. After her family has left, Cendrillon sits by the fire and dreams of the ball. Cendrillon’s Fairy Godmother enters and conjures her a coach, horses, a beautiful gown, and glass slippers. She tells Cendrillon that she can go to the ball but must leave before midnight, and that the glass slippers will prevent Cendrillon’s family from recognizing her.

The royal ballroom is full of guests enjoying themselves, but Prince Charming is in a melancholy mood. The King orders his son to find a wife, and several princesses dance for the Prince. An unknown beauty, Cendrillon in all her finery, enters the room to general surprise. The whole court—except Madame de la Haltière and her daughters—are charmed by the stranger, and the Prince immediately falls in love with her. Left alone with Cendrillon, he tells her of his feelings. Cendrillon is equally taken with the Prince, but at the first stroke of midnight she hurries away, remembering the Fairy Godmother’s words.

Cendrillon has returned home, crestfallen at having had to leave the Prince behind. She remembers her frightening journey from the royal palace and how she lost one of her glass slippers as she left the ball. Madame de la Haltière and her daughters enter, abusing Pandolfe. Madame de la Haltière then describes to Cendrillon the “unknown stranger” who appeared at the King’s ball, telling her that the Prince spoke contemptuously of the girl, and that the Court regarded her with disdain. When Pandolfe tells his wife to be quiet, she turns on him again. Pandolfe has finally had enough and sends Madame de la Haltière, Noémie, and Dorothée out of the room. He suggests to Cendrillon that they leave town and return together to his country estate. Cendrillon agrees, and Pandolfe goes to prepare for their journey. Alone, Cendrillon decides that she is too sad to continue living. She says farewell to her home and leaves, determined to go off and die in the forest.

Spirits are dancing in the forest. Prince Charming and Cendrillon enter, looking for each other. They pray to the Fairy Godmother to ease their pain. Hearing each other’s voices, they reaffirm their love, and Cendrillon tells the Prince her true name, Lucette. The Fairy Godmother allows the pair to see each other. They embrace and fall into an enchanted sleep.

Pandolfe has found Cendrillon in the forest and has been caring for her at home. He tells her that she had been talking during her illness of her adventures at the ball and of Prince Charming. Cendrillon begins to believe that the whole episode was a dream. Trying to be brave, she greets the spring with her father. Madame de la Haltière, Noémie, and Dorothée enter excitedly. They tell Cendrillon and Pandolfe that the King has summoned maidens from all over the land in the hope that one of them is the unknown beauty whom the Prince met at the ball. Madame de la Haltière is sure that the Prince must mean one of her daughters and is determined to go to the palace. A herald announces that the Prince is insisting that each woman who appears at court must try on the glass slipper left behind by unknown beauty, for it will only fit perfectly upon her foot. Cendrillon resolves to go to the palace as well.

The Prince is desperately searching for his beloved among the young women summoned to the palace. Having not found her, he despairs, until Cendrillon and the Fairy Godmother arrive. The Prince immediately recognizes Cendrillon, and the pair declare their love to the court. Pandolfe and the rest of Cendrillon’s family enter. Everyone rejoices and hails Cendrillon as their future queen.

Synopsis reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Notes by Zeke Hecker

A few seasons ago the Met brought us Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Here’s what I wrote then about the source:

“There are hundreds of variants of the Cinderella story spread across many cultures. [I should have said thousands.] The two best-known versions in the West are Cendrillon by the French writer Charles Perrault (1697) and Aschenputtel by the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1810). Perrault’s version includes the wicked stepsisters, fairy godmother, pumpkin coach, and glass slipper. In the Grimms’ version, miracles are performed by the spirit of the heroine’s dead mother assisted by a magical white bird; the slipper is golden; the Prince captures it with pitch smeared on the palace steps; and a series of increasingly gory events leads to happily ever after. Dramatizations, mostly of Perrault, include operas by Gioacchino Rossini, Jules Massenet, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, Pauline Viardot, and Peter Maxwell Davies; a ballet by Sergei Prokofiev; a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein; Stephen Sondheim’s anthology musical Into the Woods (based on Grimm); and dozens of theater, film, and television adaptations.”

Today we hear Massenet’s treatment. He and librettist Henri Cain (with whom he collaborated on six operas and a ballet) wanted to play up the magical and dreamlike elements of the story, knowing their efforts would be abetted by the up-to-date stage machinery in the Salle Favart, home of the Opéra-Comique. (That theater has recently undergone a two-year restoration, with spectacular results.) The relatively few changes they made to the familiar plot serve those ends, notably the meeting of the Prince and Cinderella in the woods. Did it really happen? Was it only a dream? If so, whose? Can separated lovers dream the same dream, and be together in it?

The premiere was, predictably, a big hit. Massenet, with twenty-two operas behind him, announced this would be his last. Fat chance. He composed eleven more.

Cinderella is the world’s most famous folktale. Massenet was the most successful French composer of his time. The difference is that, after his death, his works (all but Manon and Werther) disappeared from the stage; they were dismissed as too sweet for the hard-as-nails twentieth century. Only in recent years have they made a comeback. If you like melody, color, wit, charm, tenderness, and gentle melancholy, he’s your man. If you don’t … well, there’s always television.