Cendrillon is Massenet’s beautiful operatic retelling of the fairy tale of Cinderella. We meet all our favorite characters: the horrible step-mother Madame de la Haltière, and step-sisters Noémie and Dorothée, Cendrillon’s kind-hearted father Pandolfe, the Fairy Godmother (La Fée), and, of course, Le Prince Charmant.
When Cendrillon is left behind, again, by her step-mother and step-sisters, as they go off to a ball with the Prince, La Fée hears her sadness, and wants to make her happy. She brings spirits and elves and instructs them to weave a dress out of star-silk, and color it with moonlight so that Cendrillon can also go to the ball. The finishing touch is, of course, the enchanted glass slipper, which will protect Cendrillon’s identity should she run into her family at the ball. There is only one rule, she must be back for midnight.
Opera in 4 acts
Sung in French
About 2 hours 20 min + intervals
A prologue in front of the curtain, suppressed before the premiere, introduced the characters and invited the audience to enjoy the fairy-tale "to escape from dark realities (pour échapper à des réalités sombres)" and to believe in the "fabulous (fabuleux)". The final words of the prologue are repeated at the end of the opera.
Chez Madame de la Haltière
A large room in the house of Madame de la Haltière with a chimney grate. Servants are busy preparing for the ball. Pandolfe, the second husband of Madame de la Haltière, wonders why he forsook the calm of his country home to marry a selfish countess with her two daughters, and pities the lot of his own loving daughter Lucette (Cendrillon). Madame de la Haltière and her daughters Noémie and Dorothée dress while the mother tells them how to attract the prince's attention at the ball. Late in leaving, Pandolfe resigns himself to accompanying them. Cendrillon enters, singing of how she wishes she could also have gone to the ball. After completing her chores she falls asleep by the warm chimney hearth. The Fairy Godmother and her attendants come in, transform Cendrillon into magnificent clothes for the ball, but warn the girl that their spell will only last until midnight, and that the glass slippers will protect her from being recognized by her family. Cendrillon promises to return at midnight, and sets off for the ball.
The royal palace
At the royal hall, all is excitement, except for the prince who is melancholic. The king reminds him that he must choose a wife. After five ballet entrées where the eligible princesses present themselves to the prince, a heavenly unknown beauty (Cendrillon) enters and enchants everyone—except for Madame de la Haltière and the two step-sisters. The prince and Cendrillon fall in love at first sight but when the clock strikes midnight Cendrillon runs off, as the stunned prince looks on.
The return from the ball
Cendrillon returns to the house, having lost one of her glass slippers in her flight, and relives the charm of the ball. Her fine gown has changed back into a plain dress. She hears the returning family carriage and hides in her room. Madame de la Haltière and her daughters insist that the prince rejected the unknown beauty. Cendrillon is on the point of fainting, when her father angrily sends the other women from the room. Tenderly he promises Cendrillon that they will return to his country home. When he has left, she recalls her mother's death, and to prevent her father any more pain, Cendrillon flees into the night, to die on her own.
The Fairies' Oak
Under a magic oak tree in an enchanted forest, the prince and Cendrillon are drawn together by the fairies. An enchanted arbour of flowers blocks their view of each other but they recognize each other's voice and sing of their love. The prince offers his heart to see his beloved. The flowers disappear and the lovers, surrounded by the spirits, fall into a slumber in each other's arms.
The terrace chez Cendrillon
Back in Cendrillon's home, Pandolfe watches over his sleeping daughter, who was found months previously by a stream. Cendrillon awakes and her father relates how in her delirium she spoke to him about the prince, the oak and the slipper. Pandolfe convinces her that it was all a dream. Madame de la Haltière and her daughters appear with the news about an assembly of all eligible princesses at the King's palace. As a royal herald summons the princesses to go and try on the glass slipper, Cendrillon realizes that her dream was true. During the march of the princesses, the scene changes.
A great hall in the palace
Back at the ballroom in the palace the prince recognizes Cendrillon among the princesses. The lovers are reunited and acclaimed by all present, even Madame de la Haltière. All turn to the audience and, out of character, sing that the piece is over and they have done their best to send the audience through "les beaux pays bleus (the beautiful blue countries)".
Cendrillon – Soprano/Mezzo-soprano (lyric)
Madame de la Haltière - Mezzo-soprano/Contralto (dramatic)
Stepmother of Cendrillon
Le Prince Charmant - Soprano/Mezzo-soprano/Tenor (falcon)
La Fée – Soprano (light lyric coloratura)
Noémie - Soprano
Dorothée - Mezzo-soprano
Pandolfe - Bass-baritone
Le Roi - Baritone
Le Doyen de la Faculté - Tenor (trial)
The Dean of the Faculty
Le Surintendant des plaisirs - Baritone
The Master of Ceremonies
Le Premier Ministre – Bass-baritone
1st spirit – Mezzo-soprano
2nd spirit – Soprano
3rd spirit – Soprano
4th spirit – Mezzo-soprano
5th spirit – Soprano
6th spirit – Soprano
Voice of the royal herald (off-stage) - Spoken
Place of birth: Saint-Étienne, Loire, France
Place of death: Paris, France
Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet was a French composer of the Romantic era best known for his operas, of which he wrote more than thirty. The two most frequently staged are Manon (1884) and Werther (1892). He also composed oratorios, ballets, orchestral works, incidental music, piano pieces, songs and other music.
Like many prominent French composers of the period, Massenet became a professor at the Conservatoire. He taught composition there from 1878 until 1896, when he resigned after the death of the director, Ambroise Thomas. Among his students were Gustave Charpentier, Ernest Chausson, Reynaldo Hahn and Gabriel Pierné.
By the time of his death, Massenet was regarded by many critics as old-fashioned and unadventurous although his two best-known operas remained popular in France and abroad. After a few decades of neglect, his works began to be favourably reassessed during the mid-20th century, and many of them have since been staged and recorded. Although critics do not rank him among the handful of outstanding operatic geniuses such as Mozart, Verdi and Wagner, his operas are now widely accepted as well-crafted and intelligent products of the Belle Époque.
“I have departed from this planet and I have left behind my poor earthly ones with their occupations which are as many as they are useless; at last I am living in the scintillating splendor of the stars, each of which used to seem to me as large as millions of suns.”
Jules Massenet was the youngest of 12 siblings. The French composer Ambroise Thomas was his composition teacher. They remained close until Thomas' death.
Most prominent operas
The French libretto was written by Henri Caïn based on Perrault's 1698 version of the Cinderella fairy tale.
Henri Cain was a French dramatist, opera and ballet librettist. He wrote over forty librettos from 1893 to his death, for many of the most prominent composers of the Parisian Belle Epoque.
2+1, 2, 2, 2 - 4, 2, 3, 1
timp, perc, 2 harps, strings
On stage: 10 musicians
Cendrillon premiered at Théâtre National de l'Opéra-Comique, Paris, in 1899.
Aria – Excerpt (Madame de la Haltière)
Aria - Ah! douce enfant, ta plainte légère (La fée)
Duet – Toi qui m'es apparue (Cendrillon, Le Prince Charmant)