First staged in Chicago in 1921, Prokofiev’s opera The Love for Three Oranges was set to a satiric tale by the 18th-century Italian writer Carlo Gozzi. The plot, in an orange skin, concerns a Prince, the son of the King of Trifles, who, having been cured of melancholia by the unintentionally clumsy, thus side-splitting, antics of the witch Fata Morgana, is cursed by the offended creature: He will roam the earth searching for the three oranges with which she has caused him to be in love. (The March accompanies the Prince from his melancholic sickbed to the Court.) After considerable travel and travail, the Prince discovers three enormous oranges, each of which, when peeled, discloses a beautiful Princess inside. Upon emerging from their citrus sanctums, the first two ladies die instantly, but the third and most beautiful, Princess Ninetta, is saved, and she and the Prince live happily ever after.
After its success with Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, the Kirov Ballet commissioned the composer to write Cinderella. Of his intended treatment of the fairy tale, the composer said, “I conceived it as a classical ballet with variations, adagios, pas de deux, and so on. I see Cinderella not only as a fairy tale character, but also as a real person, feeling, experiencing, and moving among us.”
The world premiere of Cinderella was not at the Kirov as originally planned, but at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater on November 15, 1945, with Galina Ulanova in the title role. Composer Dmitri Shostakovich, writing in Pravda, said that it was “worthy of the glorious traditions of the Russian ballet.” One might edit that statement to read, “worthy of the glorious fairy tale traditions of the Russian ballet.”