Cenerentola is forced to work as a servant for her step-father Don Magnifico and her half-sisters Clorinda and Tisbe. One day the whole household is thrown into a frenzy by the news: Prince Ramiro will call on them soon and he's looking for a bride. However, the man they meet isn't the prince, but his valet Dandini, while the real prince has disguised himself as a valet to observe he girls and gauge their real character.
When he meets Cenerentola, he's immediately smitten, but he has to leave her behind as Don Magnifico won't allow her to accompany them to the ball. As soon as they leave, however, Alidoro, philosopher and the prince's teacher, arrives and helps Cenerentola go to the ball, where her beauty stuns the court. When the fake prince tries to court her, she refuses his advances, proclaiming her love for his valet. Ramiro, hiding nearby, reveals himself, but she orders him not to follow her: he has to look for her and see her regular situation, then he can decide if he still wants her. She gives him a bracelet and keeps an identical one on herself so he'll be able to recognize her.
The Prince throws off his disguise, orders his servants to empty his palace of all moochers and starts looking for the mysterious lady. As luck would have it, his carriage breaks down near Don Magnifico's palace...
La Cenerentola provides examples of the following tropes:
- Abusive Family: Don Magnifico, Tisbe and Clorinda.
- Actually, I Am Him: Cenerentola tries to speak up when Alidoro brings up Don Magnifico's third daughter, but Don Magnifico interrupts her, covers her mouth and threatens her.
- Arranged Marriage: fake prince Ramiro's solution: since he can't marry both Tisbe and Clorinda, he'll pick one of them and the other will marry his faithful valet Dandini. Doubles as Secret Test of Character since the valet is actually the real prince in disguise and both sisters angrily refuse him.
- Contrived Coincidence: averted thanks to the philosopher Alidoro.
- Easily Forgiven: Don Magnifico and his daughters, although it doesn't quite reach Karma Houdini territory.
- Either/Or Title: the full title is Cenerentola o la bontà in trionfo (Cinderella or goodness triumphant).
- Extremely Short Timespan: the whole opera takes place in a day.
- Fairy Godmother: Rossini chose a non-magical resolution to the story due to the limitations of special effects available at the time—thus Alidoro, philosopher and the prince's tutor, was born. Recent productions play with it by implying that Alidoro is actually Rossini himself sent as an agent of Heaven.
- Financial Abuse: Don Magnifico admits he spent all his step-daughter's fortune on his own daughters.
- Foreshadowing: the first song Cenerentola sings is a fairy tale about a king looking to marry and picking goodness over beauty and riches.
- Happily Ever After
- "I Am" Song: played with. Come un'ape nei giorni d'aprile does sound like a perfectly straight example, except it's sung by Dandini pretending to be the prince: he's essentially presenting his persona.
- Idiot Ball: Prince Ramiro. In Act I, Cenerentola tries to explain her difficult family situation, with "a father who isn't a father" and her two half-sisters. Alidoro later appears and asks about Don Magnifico's third daughter. In Act II, Ramiro is surprised by Tisbe and Clorinda's terrible attitudes because Alidoro told him to look for his bride in Don Magnifico's house. He witnessed all that and still utterly fails to put two and two together. He also fails to realize that the mysterious lady at the ball is the "servant girl" who charmed him earlier, despite noticing how much she looks and sounds like her though to be fair, Magnifico and the sisters make the same mistake, even though they live with her.
- Ironic Echo: when Tisbe and Clorinda try to flirt with the real prince Ramiro, he throws back at them all the names they called him when they thought him a mere valet.
- I Will Find You: Sì, ritrovarla io giuro.
- Large Ham: Dandini the valet, especially when he pretends to be prince Ramiro. He's barely on stage when the real prince has to ask him to tone it down.
- Let's Duet: Un soave non so che.
- Love at First Sight
- Marry for Love: Prince Ramiro wants this.
- Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: Questo è un nodo avviluppato.
- Meaningful Name: Cenerentola's real name is Angelina. Overlaps with All There in the Manual since it's only mentioned once toward the end of the opera.
- Memento MacGuffin: two identical bracelets, which replace the traditional glass slipper.
- Old Beggar Test: Alidoro first visits the house disguised as a beggar to test the worthiness of the young women. Tisbe and Clorinda try to get rid of him, but Cenerentola sneaks him something to eat and drink, and thereby earns herself his assistance.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: averted with Alidoro, Ramiro and Dandini. Played straight with Cenerentola.
- Secret Test of Character: several throughout the opera. Cenerentola passes one when she sneaks food to the disguised Alidoro, while Clorinda and Tisbe fail theirs.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: so nicely her own family doesn't recognize her.
- That Makes Me Feel Angry: Ramiro hates the way Don Magnifico mistreats Cenerentola, but he can't act on it as he's disguised as a servant.
- The Chessmaster: Alidoro.
- Well Done Daughter Girl: all Cenerentola wants is to be acknowledged by her step-father and half-sisters.
- Youngest Child Wins: Subverted. When briefly explaining her family situation to Ramiro in disguise, Cenerentola mentions in passing that Clorinda and Thisbe were also her mother's daughters with the Baron, making them her younger half-sisters, and her the eldest. This line is often changed in English translations.