Opera Scotland

Secret Marriage Il matrimonio segreto

Music
Domenico Cimarosa (born Aversa, nr Naples, 17 December 1749; died Venice, 11 January 1801)

Text
Giovanni Bertati

Source
Comedy The Clandestine Marriage (1766) by George Colman the elder and David Garrick.

Premieres
First performance: Vienna (Burgtheater), 7 February 1792.
First UK performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 11 January 1794.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Queen’s Theatre), 28 March 1860.
Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 7 October 2008.

Background
Cimarosa and his contemporary Paisiello were the two most successful Italian composers of opera in the latter part of the eighteenth century, and their works can be seen to lead an Italian tradition through to Rossini and the bel canto school. He passed four unhappy years working in Russia, and on his way home spent a couple of years in Vienna. Otherwise his career was concentrated in the major cities of Italy. The Secret Marriage is a clever condensation of the original play, and was extremely successful at its Viennese opening. But its hold on the stage has been erratic. In a good production it seems a wonderful piece, containing elements of both Mozart and Rossini, without being quite as memorable as either.

Characters
Geronimo, a wealthy merchant (baritone) – Mr Sterling in the play.
Fidalma, his sister, a wealthy widow (mezzo-soprano) – Mrs Heidelberg.
Elisetta, Geronimo’s elder daughter (soprano) – Miss Sterling.
Carolina, Geronimo’s younger daughter (soprano) – Miss Fanny.
Count Robinson, an English milord (baritone) – Lord Ogleby.
Paolino, Geronimo’s clerk (tenor) – Lovewell.

Plot Summary
The opera is set in Bologna, rather than the London of the original play. Geronimo has two eligible daughters. His sister, an independently wealthy widow who now manages the household, is not averse to the idea of a new relationship, and has taken a fancy to Paolino. He, however, is already secretly married to Carolina. Count Robinson, an old friend of Geronimo’s, comes to Italy with the intention of marrying Elisetta. However he immediately finds that he actually prefers Carolina, much to Paolino’s consternation. Elisetta and Fidalma are both jealous of Carolina because of their own interest in the Count and Paolino, respectively. They plot with Geronimo to have Carolina consigned to a convent. That night, Carolina and Paolino at last plan to effect an elopement. However Elisetta has heard sounds in Carolina’s bedroom and rouses the household. The couple are discovered, and confess all. Count Robinson persuades Geronimo to accept the situation, and he marries Elisetta after all.

RECORDINGS

ARTS (3 bargain-price CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1991

Conductor: Gabriele Bellini
Orchestra of Eastern Netherlands
Janet Williams (Elisetta), Susan Patterson (Carolina), Gloria Banditelli (Fidalma),
William Matteuzzi (Paolino), Petteri Salomaa (Robinson), Alfonso Antoniozzi (Geronimo).

This recording is conducted with a delightfully deft touch by Gabriele Bellini, and most of the singers became rather better known by the end of the century than they were when the recording was made. The Orchestra of Eastern Netherlands, another unknown quantity, turns out to be an excellent band. The notes are very good, though the libretto is Italian-only. The text used is fuller than on other versions – the conductor is no slouch, but the performance is 25 minutes longer than the Barenboim, and 50 minutes longer than the Scala version, which has some hefty cuts.

DG (3 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1976

Conductor: Daniel Barenboim
English Chamber Orchestra
Julia Varady (Elisetta), Arleen Augér (Carolina), Julia Hamari (Fidalma),
Ryland Davies (Paolino), Alberto Rinaldi (Robinson), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Geronimo).

This recording is thoroughly enjoyable, with no weak links in the line-up. The casting of Julia Hamari, an audibly younger-sounding mezzo, as the aunt Fidalma, makes the comedy sharper, since she is a realistic threat to the lovers, rather than an elderly grotesque. Ryland Davies gives an ardent and youthful performance. Julia Varady and Arleen Augér contrast well as the sisters, without the jealous Elisetta sounding too shrill or sour. Fischer-Dieskau plays Geronimo reasonably straight. Barenboim was still a relative novice as a conductor of opera, but this set marks a great step forward compared with the Mozart he did in Edinburgh a couple of years earlier.

EMI (2 mid-price CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1956

Conductor: Nino Sanzogno
Orchestra of La Scala Milan
Eugenia Ratti (Elisetta), Graziella Sciutti (Carolina), Fedora Barbieri (Fidalma),
Luigi Alva (Paolino), Franco Calabrese (Robinson), Carlo Badioli (Geronimo).

In 1957 the Piccola Scala brought four productions from Milan to the Edinburgh Festival. Singers included Callas, Scotto, Cossotto, di Stefano, Bruscantini and Corena, with the stage directors Visconti, Zeffirelli and Enriquez in charge. The production of Il matrimonio segreto was by the equally distinguished Giorgio Strehler, and featured the entire cast as above with one exception. Fedora Barbieri was the absentee, and she is the slight disappointment on the recording, her Verdian mezzo sounding too much of a battleaxe. Her replacement in Edinburgh, Gabriella Carturan, may have been less characterful, but at least sounded younger. Perhaps the buffo element from the baritones is slightly overdone, but the performance still comes over well, and must have been delightful in the intimacy of the King’s Theatre. One other quibble is the fact that the opera suffers substantial cuts. Since even Verdi, Mozart and Wagner were still served up in highly amputated form in those days, it is presumably unrealistic to expect that a minor master such as Cimarosa would have been treated with greater respect. Any cast that contains Graziella Sciutti, Luigi Alva and Eugenia Ratti is well worth listening to.

The Cast

Carolina
 Geronimo's second daughter
Count Robinson
 an English milord
Elisetta
 Geronimo's elder daughter
Fidalma
 Geronimo's widowed sister
Geronimo
 a rich merchant
Paolino
 Geronimo's young clerk
Servant
 

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