Like most of Gioacchino Rossini’s greatest hits, La Cenerentola was composed in record time and wasn’t even planned to be a masterpiece. A topic for a new opera was needed, someone suggested “Cinderella” and Rossini, who was dead tired, woke up briefl y to assent, and then went back to sleep. You could say that La Cenerentola was conceived in a dream. Rossini did however demand of his librettist Jacopo Ferretti that he rid Perrault’s famous Mother Goose story of all its fantastical fairy stuff and be more realistic. So no pumpkin coach for this Cinderella, who is bullied not by a stepmother but her stepfather, the pompous Don Magnifi co, and receives help, not from a fairy godmother but a wise old philosopher named Alidoro. As for the glass slipper, it is replaced by a bracelet. Rossini’s opera distances itself from Perrault’s fairy tale by its realism and the moral lesson it imparts, that goodness will triumph over all adversity. But French stage director Laurent Pelly, now on the third Rossini production of his career, is keen to put some of the magic it deserves back into this Cinderella. He plans to stagecraft an extra layer of dreamworld when the Prince Don Ramiro appears in the rather humdrum everyday life of Don Magnifi co’s house. With this fl ight of fancy, the director reveals the unavowed ambitions of each character that transform the appearance of the world around them. Laurent Pelly freely admits that he fi nds the extravagance he’s looking for in Rossini’s madcap, ebullient, fanciful music. The director is known to Grand Théâtre audiences for his fi nely honed sense of comedy (Viva la Mamma, Le Médecin malgré lui, to quote some recent productions) but he is very clear that without a keen awareness of the inherent sadness of existence, nothing can be truly funny. He sees in the solitary and outcast fi gure of Angelina, the shades of melancholy that defi ne real burlesque. Perhaps this incarnation of Cinderella is a tad naive, but what defi nes her is her wholehearted opposition to the meanness around her through goodness alone. If there is one opera that give us hope to resist what draws us down and the unabashed nastiness of our virtual and physical worlds, if there is only one opera heroine to teach us simply to be kind, it must be Angelina, our Cenerentola. Conductor Stefano Montanari, a Baroque violinist with the look of a heavy metal rocker, hails from Ravenna, not that far from Rossini’s native Pesaro. He will lead the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande through this dramma giocoso’s head-spinning ensembles and throat-busting coloraturas. And in the title role, a bel canto diva with many virtuoso performances at the Pesaro Opera Festival (Bayreuth for Rossinians…) under her belt, Russian mezzo-soprano Anna Goryachova.