The first known Cinderella was called Rhodopis, lived around 7th century BCE, and transitioned from slavery to royalty by marrying the King of Egypt. I doubt that she had either little glass slippers or a fairy godmother. Making her way into the world’s culture, she has acquired both, as well as a despotic stepmother and an obnoxious step-sister or two, in Renaissance Italy. Moving on to France and Germany, she finally met her prince in fairy tales by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.
I have not been able to discover a connection between Mozart and Cinderella, other than an unsubstantiated theory that Mozart wrote the G-minor (40th) symphony thinking of his older sister Nannerl (Anna Maria Walburga Ignatia, the only surviving sibling). Nannerl appeared to have been as much a prodigy as Wolfie, and until she turned 18, the two often performed together. However, what had been adorable for a child, became unseemly for a young woman, and poor oppressed Nannerl had to abandon a musical career, while Wolfgang went on to become a genius we all know and love.
The final scene of Giacomo Rossini La Cenerentola (Cinderella), brilliantly rendered by the great Frederica von Stade, portrays Dad and the two step-sisters reacting to Cinderella’s triumph. The prince is present and accounted for, as well as the entire court. Stepmother is not in attendance.
Trust it to the Russians, though, to paint the story in much darker hues and embellish it with a unique cast of characters. The stepmother is much more than despotic – she is truly evil, and the step-sister is not only ugly, but also rude and uncouth. Instead of prince Charming, there is a handsome but egotistic neighbor Ivan (of course!), who is unable to find a bride for himself because of his self-centeredness. Walking through the forest, Ivan is assaulted by a gang of highwaymen. He is a big strong young man and he defeats them with the help of Old Man Mushroom who gifts him with bow and arrows. Instead of thanks, Ivan rudely dismisses the old man and, as soon as he meets poor Cinderella, called Nasten’ka (endearment of Anastasia), starts bragging about his strength. He offers to demonstrate his heroism by killing a bear. Kind Nasten’ka is unable to bear senseless animal abuse, so she temporarily blinds the boorish Ivan by slamming her bucket on his head. Old Man Mushroom, who is watching the proceedings, turns Ivan’s head into a bear head. But Ivan thinks it’s Nasten’ka who has deprived him of his pretty mug and curses her. Old Man Mushroom then explains to him that in order to turn back into his handsome self, he has to perform good deeds.
There is a lot more to this elaborate plot, populated by a few more personages, some of whom come straight out of Russian folk tales. It grows downright sinister when the stepmother orders her henpecked husband to take Nasten’ka into the winter forest and leave her there to freeze to death. Unable to get out from under his wife’s thumb, the girl’s father obeys. All ends well though, through the good offices of Morozko (Father Frost), the heroic quest of Ivan who has transformed into the nicest guy you ever want to meet, and, of course, the kind intervention of – you guessed it! – Old Man Mushroom.
In the final scene of the 1964 Russian film Morozko, Ivan and Nasten’ka ask their parents’ blessing for a happy union. The song you hear has become so famous that many consider it a folk song. The difference between two happy endings is obvious; after all the trials and tribulations, the protagonists join their family in the Russian version, and Father Frost himself performs the wedding ceremony.
This delightful film I had watched as a child came to my mind when I discovered several mushrooms that looked like human figures bundled up against Russian winter. I am sharing with you, Beautiful People, an old Russian recipe for one of the easiest appetizers you have ever made.
- 1 lb mushrooms (cut in halves or quarters if too big)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 5 – 6 garlic cloves, squeezed
- 2 – 3 bay leaves
- Black peppercorn (20 – 25 pieces)
- Combine all ingredients in pot or Dutch oven, bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer for 5 minutes.
- Chill, refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
About the guest author:
Dolly Aizenman is the brainchild behind Kool Kosher Kitchen (Which her blog and her book are named after).
This charismatic Russian blogger is fond of cooking and writing.
She has a BA in Art and Music Education, MA in English, MS in Education and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership.