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Recordings

Domenico Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto
11 Feb 2006

CIMAROSA: Il Matrimonio Segreto

Premiered in 1792 (just months after the death of Mozart), Il Matrimonio Segreto won over Vienna from the start, and Domenico Cimarosa’s opera would remain his most popular work.

Domenico Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto

David Kuebler, Georgine Resick, Claudio Nicolai, Drottningholm Court Theatre Orchestra, Hilary Griffiths (cond.)

EuroArts 2054548 [DVD]

 

Mozart’s operas temporarily fell out of favor, but their greatness could not lie dormant forever. As they found new admirers, Cimarosa’s opera slid back into obscurity, and despite occasional revivals, it has never reclaimed the success it first enjoyed.

In 1986 a Cologne Opera production came to the Schwetzinger Festival, and the performance was broadcast for television. EuroArts now makes this available as a DVD. Those with a love of classical era operas, or just a boundless appetite for rarities, can experience what Vienna fell for in 1792.

A resemblance to Mozart and Da Ponte’s Nozze di Figaro may not be what enamored Vienna, but it is there. Whereas Figaro and Susanna are about to marry, Paolino (a clerk, not a servant) and Carolina (a merchant’s daughter) have already married in secret - thus, the title. Geronimo, Carolina’s father, has arranged for his eldest daughter, Elisetta, to marry a Count, so as to bring his family greater stature. But the Count falls for Carolina, while Geronimo’s widowed sister (Fidalma) has her sights set on Paolino. In the end, the young lovers must admit to their elopement (with a suggestion in this production that Carolina is pregnant). The Count graciously recognizes that he cannot destroy the true partnership of the young couple and agrees to marry the older daughter. Forgiveness is granted by all for the preceding hysterics and bad behavior, which comes in a joyful finale.

Perhaps it is needless to say that Cimarosa’s opera does not shine in comparison to Mozart’s masterpiece. The characters lack the complexity of those of Nozze, and though the music never fails to charm, it lacks the poignancy and edge Mozart could provide. Nevertheless, Il Matrimonio Segreto has its fine moments, including a wildly lascivious first act for Fidalma about the pleasures of a husband, and a touching aria for Carolina in the last act when she thinks Paolino has betrayed her. The first act, however, feels a little long for its dramatic material, while the second act fairly zips along.

This 1986 production doesn’t offer much eye appeal. The Rokokotheater looks as if it seats much fewer than 1,000 people, and the stage is correspondingly tiny. The uni-set design manages to serve the story well enough, as the setting never wanders from Geronimo’s house. Nonetheless, some visual variety would have been much appreciated. The costumes also tend to off-whites and beiges, creating a wearisome monochrome effect.

All the cast inhabits their roles with comic relish; not much of the singing, however, ingratiates the ear. David Kuebler brings skill and control but no beauty of tone, and while Claudio Nicolai gives a first-rate acting performance as the Count, his dry baritone saps some of the fun from his character (especially in the riotous aria where he tries to convince Elisetta that he is a scoundrel).

The ladies do somewhat better, especially Georgine Resick as Carolina; her sweet, light soprano makes us forgive her character’s tendency to weepy moping. Marta Szirmay tears into Fidalma’s matronly lewdness with abandon, and Barbara Daniels, as the spoiled older daughter, also goes over the top in a most entertaining fashion.

The Drottningholm Court Theatre orchestra puts on a lively performance under Hilary Griffiths, although certain exposed instrumental moments indicate that this is not one of the top opera house ensembles.

Cimarosa’s big hit may never reclaim its initial success, but this DVD does a decent job of presenting its modest attractions. Perhaps a more colorful production with more entrancing voices will find its way to DVD; but until then, this EuroArts set deserves a look and listen.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

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