Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Cinderella: Disney vs. Rossini

Left: Disney's Cinderella. Right: "Cinderella," San Diego Opera, 2016 © J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson.
Rossini's opera Cinderella (which comes to Seattle Opera this fall), might be a little different than the one you're used to. The narrative familiar to many Americans comes from the 1950 Disney cartoon, which took its inspiration: fairy godmother, transformed pumpkin, glass slipper, midnight spell and all, from Charles Perrault’s 1967 Cendrillon (Rossini was also inspired by Perrault, however, conscious of his theater producer's budget, the composer avoided expensive magic and transformation scenes).⁣

"Disney’s animated retelling of the fairy tale was an instant classic. The film was a Cinderella story for the studio, too, rescuing it from ruin after a string of box-office disappointments like Pinocchio and Fantasia and the loss of the lucrative European market during World War II. In 1950, Cinderella symbolized not just a cosmetic transformation, but a cultural one. Snow White—Disney’s sole previous animated fairy-tale heroine—had the rosy cheeks and cropped hair of an all-American girl of the 1930s. But she was very much a girl. With Cinderella, a new feminine ideal emerged, thanks to the so-called 'New Look' of 1947.

After a decade of wartime clothing rationing, Christian Dior’s debut haute couture collection brought back the hourglass figure. Dior described his ideal customers as 'flowerlike women, with rounded shoulders, full feminine busts and hand-span waists above enormous spreading skirts.' He could have been describing Cinderella—and the countless Disney heroines who followed.⁣ But Cinderella was more than a fashion statement. The entire movie can be read as a parable of postwar consumerism. The Axis Powers of wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters are vanquished and humiliated. Underemployed farm animals benefit from a sudden job boom, and victory garden pumpkins become slick new rides. What better metaphor for this fragile peace and prosperity than a glass slipper?"⁣ — Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, The Atlantic 

Dior couture, 1950s. 
Key differences between Disney’s cartoon and Rossini’s opera:
Disney: Cinderella loses a glass slipper, which the prince uses to find her. 

Rossini: Cinderella gives the prince (disguised as a servant) matching bracelets, saying she will wear the other so he can recognize her.

Disney: At midnight, the spell that transformed Cinderella will end.

Rossini: There’s no magic spell; Cinderella leaves the ball because she wants to get home before her sisters.

Disney: Cinderella is magicked to look like a princess, which gets the prince’s attention.

Rossini: The prince disguises himself as a servant in order to find a woman who will love him for who he is.

In Disney's Cinderella, “ugly” step-sisters contrast Western beauty ideals. 

Disney: The story includes a wicked step-mother.

Rossini: The story includes a wicked step-father.

Disney: The prince does not wear a disguise in this story.

Rossini: Dandini, Ramiro’s servant, and the Prince switch places and masquerade as each other.

Disney: A fairytale godmother sings “bibbidi bobbidi boo” and Cinderella’s look goes from from rags to riches.

Rossini: Alidoro, the prince’s tutor, gives Cinderella a nice dress and takes her to the ball. 

"Cinderella," San Diego Opera, 2016 © J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson.

Disney: Magic is an inherent part of the plot with talking mice and an enchanted carriage.

Rossini: Personal transformation, kindness, and forgiveness drive the story without magic.

Disney: “Ugly” step-sisters contrast Western beauty ideals.

Rossini: What makes the step-sisters “ugly” is their vain and pretentious behavior.

Disney: The moral of the storyCinderella lives happily ever after with her prince.

Rossini: The moral of the storyCinderella falls in love with a man (who turns out to be a prince), and marries him. But more importantly, she extends forgiveness and love to those who wronged her.

"Cinderella," San Diego Opera, 2016 © J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson.
Cinderella plays Oct. 19–Nov. 1, 2019 at McCaw Hall.
Tickets & info: