Notes and Editorial Reviews
Recorded live at the Theatre Schwetzingen , June 1986
Picture Format: NTSC · 4:3 fullscreen
Sound Format: PCM Stereo - Dolby Digital 5.1 - DTS 5.1
Region Code: 0
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French
Booklet Notes: English, German, French
Running Time: 153 mins
R E V I E W S:
On December 5, 1791, Mozart died in Vienna. Two months later, the city’s Burgtheater witnessed the premiere of an opera by a composer who during his lifetime achieved European success on a scale that Mozart could only have dreamed of. Domenico Cimarosa had arrived in Vienna in late December after the expiration of his
contract at the court of Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg, only to be immediately commissioned by the Emperor Leopold II to provide a new opera. The result was
Il matrimonio segreto
, a comic opera that achieved such a success with both emperor and public that the entire performance was repeated privately for Leopold on the night of a premiere that had lasted three hours due to frequent ovations and encores. This triumph was rapidly repeated elsewhere in Europe, where
soon swept stages from Dresden and Berlin to Naples and Lisbon.
The reasons for the opera’s success are not hard to fathom. It starts with the benefit of an excellent libretto by Giovanni Bertati that, while replete with the misunderstandings and resulting confusions and consternation that were paradigms of comic opera, eschews disguise and other complications in favor of a plot in which the motivations of the characters are always clearly delineated. Like
Le nozze di Figaro
, to which in some respects it bears more than a passing resemblance, Bertati’s book was based in part on a popular play.
The Clandestine Marriage
(London, 1766) was written by George Colman and David Garrick, who had in turn taken their inspiration from William Hogarth’s series of paintings,
Marriage à la mode
, the opera takes place in the course of a single day, the progress of which is marked in the present production by effective lighting outside the house of Geronimo in Bologna. The action takes place in a large salon with rooms leading off each side. Geronimo is an aging, hard-of-hearing merchant with pretensions to aristocratic grandeur (and money) that he hopes to fulfil by marrying off his elder daughter Elisetta to the wealthy and foppish Count Robinson. Unfortunately, when the Count arrives to settle the marriage contract he is considerably more attracted to the younger daughter, Carolina, who, unknown to anyone, has recently secretly married Geronimo’s clerk, Paolino. To add to the complications, the merchant’s sister Fidalma, a Marcellina-like figure, has herself decided to marry Paolino (again, shades of
). Ultimately, after much confusion, the secret marriage is revealed and, much to the satisfaction of Geronimo, the Count decides he will after all marry Elisetta.
It would be idle to pretend that Cimarosa was able to breathe the same depth into these characters as did Mozart habitually in his comic operas. Nonetheless, each is drawn with considerable skill. In Geronimo, we meet the typical
bass, a close relative of
’s Dr. Bartolo. The two sisters are nicely contrasted types: Elisetta, vain, spoiled, and the possessor of a fiery temper; Carolina, a sympathetic, romantic character whose vicissitudes owe something to Richardson’s Pamela. Both she and Paolino are largely serious characters (although Carolina has sufficient spirit to have a sparky row with her sister in the splendid terzetto, “Le faccio un inchino”) in the
tradition of young lovers who must battle through adversity. Although in some ways a typical fop, Count Robinson is saved from being a stereotype when, despite having fallen for Carolina, it is he who finally wins Geronimo’s grudging approval for the match between Carolina and Paolino.
Cimarosa’s music is notable for its richness of melodic invention, and a telling mixture of irresistible vitality and romantic sentimentality.
is, above all, an ensemble opera, with no fewer than nine such numbers against eight arias, even leaving aside the extended finales to both acts. In the arias, Cimarosa favors the multisectional type; he frequently employs them to advance the action, as in Paolino’s long act II“Pria che spunti,” in which he outlines to Carolina his plans for their elopement, the galloping orchestral writing in the central section clearly evoking the horse-drawn carriage that will take them far from torment. In this aria, as in Geronimo’s act I “Udite,” Cimarosa’s writing anticipates Rossini.
The present performance stems from a Cologne Opera production that subsequently toured various European centers, including the enchanting Baroque theater in Schwetzingen Palace, the venue at which it was filmed. I was fortunate enough to catch it in London, at the time considering it one of the most stylish and delightful productions of a comic opera I had ever seen. Some 20 years on, I still do. The secret of Michael Hampe’s direction is to have instilled into all six of his cast so spontaneous and natural a manner of acting that the viewer is carried along with the unfolding events throughout, identifying with, and willingly drawn into, the consternation and confusion. To this, Hampe added many delicious touches, as at the moment when the Count dusts off Elisetta’s hand with his handkerchief before ostentatiously
kissing it at their moment of introduction. The cast not only looks good, but also, with the exception of some moments of stridency from tenor David Kuebler’s handsome Paolino, sings extremely well. Both the veteran bass Carlos Feller’s Geronimo and baritone Claudio Nicolai’s Count Robinson are superlative performances, their act II wheeling-and-dealing duet bringing the house down, as it apparently did at the opera’s premiere. Barbara Daniels is a vivaciously stuck-up Elisetta, arguably too sexily alluring to have been rejected by the count in favor of her younger sister, who is played with an attractively winning sympathy by Georgine Resick. Hilary Griffith conducts with a sure hand, drawing sparkling playing from the Drottningholm orchestra, pacing the opera beautifully, and making the most of Cimarosa’s many felicitous touches of orchestration. The filming is ideally unobtrusive, being sufficiently intimate to enable us to see many a nuance in the acting without peering down the throats of the singers. The sound is very good.
In sum, this DVD is a delight from start to finish, a cocktail of champagne mixed with something a little smoother and gentler. It also remains an object lesson in production that provides a stern riposte to those who would have us believe that we must make the past “relevant” to the ugly minimalist sterility of the 21st century.
FANFARE: Brian Robins
Works on This Recording
Il matrimonio segreto by Domenico Cimarosa
David Kuebler (Tenor),
Georgine Resick (Soprano),
Barbara Daniels (Soprano),
Carlos Feller (Bass)
Drottningholm Court Theatre Orchestra
Written: 1792; Vienna, Austria
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