by Alma Deutscher
Once upon a time, in the Kingdom of Transylvanian, there lived a girl called Cinderella. Her mother died when she was young, and she was brought up by her loving father, the manager of the little opera house at the edge of Brasslichmei, the capital. Cinderella would often entertain her father by singing him the beautiful melodies that sprang into her head. Some years later, her father married again, an aging prima donna with two daughters of her own, Griselda and Zibaldona. When Cinderella’s father died, Cinderella’s step-mother took over the opera company, and everything changed…
It’s early morning in the opera house. Cinderella has been up all night copying music for the orchestral rehearsal. She must finish copying all the orchestral parts or her stepmother will be angry. After working through the night, Cinderella can no longer concentrate on the monotonous double-bass part, and a beautiful melody springs into her head. The stepsisters sneer at Cinderella, and the stepmother shouts at her for not finishing the work on time.
In the palace, the Royal Minister is worried about the King’s failing health and about the Prince, who has not shown any interest in the affairs of the realm, and instead spends his time writing poetry. The King summons the Prince and tells him he must marry and produce an heir, but the Prince wants to find true love. The Prince storms off. The minister suggests that the King should arrange a masked ball so the Prince can choose his bride. A singing competition will be held as part of the entertainment, to cheer up the poet-Prince.
The agitated Prince has fled to the forest, and in despair, is about to throw away his book of poems, but just then he runs into a poor old woman. The old woman asks him for help with lighting a fire. In haughty impatience, the Prince offers her his book of poems as kindling material. When she sees his sash, emblazoned with royal insignia, she is mortified and apologizes for her insolence in having disturbed the Crown Prince. Her apology chastens the Prince, who determines to become a good King and help people in real need.
Shortly afterwards, Cinderella wanders into the forest in search of firewood. She encounters the old woman, who is barefoot. Cinderella immediately gives the old woman her own tattered shoes. The old woman promises to return the shoes some day, and insists on giving Cinderella the book of poems in return. Cinderella reads one of the poems and is inspired by the words.
The Minister arrives at the opera house, with an invitation to the Ball and to the singing competition. But instead of the invitation, he mistakenly hands the Stepmother the doctor’s prescription for the King’s ailments. The stepsisters assume the prescription must be a poem written by the Prince, and conclude that they are expected to sing it at the Ball. They admire the royal ‘poem’ and try to compose music for it. Cinderella is the only one who is not excited by the prospect of marrying a Prince who can write such silly words. Instead, she opens the book of poems that the old woman gave her, sits down and starts writing a melody for the poem she read in the forest. She falls asleep in the middle of writing.
The Stepmother is wondering what she can do to help her favorite daughter, Griselda, find a good melody for the Prince’s poem. She sees Cinderella sleeping at the table, and notices the music that Cinderella has composed. In spite of herself, she is struck by Cinderella’s talent and her beautiful melody. She decides to steal the melody and let Griselda sing it in the competition. Cinderella wakes up from a dream about a young poet she met at the Ball. She asks her stepmother to be allowed to go, but the stepmother says there is simply no suitable dress for her.
A few days later, the stepsisters are quarreling about who is the more attractive. Cinderella has spent the last few days sewing and mending a dress from the discarded old costumes of the opera house. When the stepsisters see her dressed for the Ball, they tear the outfit off her. The Stepmother tells Cinderella that no one would ever allow a ‘beggar girl’ like her into the Royal Palace. She and her daughters depart for the Ball.
Cinderella understands for the first time how much her Stepmother and stepsisters hate her. In despair, she sings a ballad about a lonely pauper girl who hears imaginary sweet voices enticing her out into the cold night. She goes out into the darkness and searches for the voices all night. Finally she falls in exhaustion into the snow, only to hear the voices screaming in her ear: “go away, no beggars here!”. Heartbroken, the beggar girl freezes to death.
Meanwhile, from his room in the palace, the Prince watches the first guests coming in. Instead of putting on his splendid royal gown, he decides to wear a very modest garment and remain incognito under his mask.
The old woman arrives at the opera house to give back the shoes and is revealed as the Fairy. She sings for Cinderella a song about a star called Hope. She then conjures up a ball gown and transforms Cinderella’s shoes into glass slippers, but tells Cinderella to be back before midnight.
At the masked Ball, a modestly dressed young man asks the stepsisters to dance, but is rudely rejected: they are looking for the Prince. Cinderella enters. Her slipper falls off, and the same young man gives it back to her and asks her to dance. During the dance, the two discover how much they like one another.
The minister announces the singing competition. Griselda starts singing Cinderella’s beautiful tune, but with the words of the doctor’s prescription. Cinderella runs out to the balcony to hide her shock that the music that she had composed for the beautiful poem from the forest has been stolen and debased with such foolish words.
The young man runs out after Cinderella to the balcony. She is too shy to explain why she is upset. She tells him that she has heard this melody before, but with much more beautiful words. Intrigued, the young man asks Cinderella to sing the song with the original words that she had heard. She sings to him her melody with the original words.
It’s now the young man’s turn to be in shock. After repeated questions, Cinderella admits she was the one who composed the music. The young man reveals that he is the author of the words. He takes off his mask and introduces himself as Prince Theodor. Cinderella is horrified to discover that her newly found friend is actually a Prince. Surely, he would never lower himself to be associated with a girl like her, a mere beggar. Suddenly the clock strikes twelve, and Cinderella realizes she must run away. The Prince can’t understand why she wants to leave. Too scared to reveal her lowly status, she answers enigmatically, by singing the end of her sad ballad about the pauper girl who went out into the snow in search of loving voices, and froze to death when these voices mocked her as a beggar.
The next morning, the Prince has not slept all night. He is pacing up and down, trying to understand why the mysterious girl had to leave. He is haunted by the sad ballad that she sang as she fled, and is convinced that it is the explanation for her sudden flight. But he only remembers the first few notes, and cannot remember how it continued.
The King comes in and cheerfully questions the Prince about the girl he danced with. The King is not amused to discover that the Prince knows nothing about her background and status, and that he doesn’t even know her name. When the Prince insists that he wants to marry only her, the King loses patience, and tells him that he must find her within a day.
The Minister tries to help the Prince, and during their conversation, it dawns on the Prince how he can find the girl: he hasn’t seen her face, but he heard her melody. He will go to every house in the Kingdom and sing the first few notes of the song that he remembers, and only the girl he is looking for will know how the song continues.
Meanwhile, the stepsisters are in a foul mood because they didn’t manage to find the Prince at the Ball. The stepmother suspects that the mysterious girl at the ball was Cinderella, and locks her in the cellar.
The Prince is in despair. He has searched high and low, in every corner of the Kingdom, but no one could continue the song. In the forest, he runs into the Fairy, who sings him her song about the special star called Hope. The star will direct the Prince to the one house at the edge of town which he hasn’t tried yet.
The Prince arrives at the opera house and asks Griselda and Zibaldona to complete the song. He is about to leave when he hears, coming faintly from the basement, the sound of Cinderella’s ballad. He pushes past the Stepmother and the stepsisters, and frees Cinderella from the basement.
The Prince and Cinderella marry in the Royal Chapel and live happily ever after.