173. Il matrimonio segreto (Cimarosa)


  • Dramma giocoso in 2 acts
  • Composer: Domenico Cimarosa
  • Libretto: Giovanni Bertati, after George Colman the Elder and David Garrick’s Clandestine Marriage
  • First performed: Imperial Hofburg Theatre, Vienna, 7 February 1792

GERONIMO, An elderly merchantBassGiambattista Serafino Blasi
ELISETTA, His daughterSoprano / mezzo-sopranoGiuseppina Nettelet
CAROLINA, His daughterSopranoIrene Tomeoni
FIDALMA, His widowed sisterMezzo-sopranoDorothea Bussani
PAOLINO, His secretaryTenorSanti Nencini
CONTE ROBINSONBassFrancesco Benucci

SETTING: Bologna, 18th century

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Opera buffa was the musical equivalent of a modern sitcom: everyday characters in a fast-paced, amusing but probable plot. Many were formulaic, of course; most entertained their audiences and were forgotten. The prolific Neapolitan composer Cimarosa produced at least half a dozen a year in the 1780s. They had titles like Il matrimonio per l’industria, per raggio, per sussurro; I matrimoni impensati; Li sposi per accidente; Lo sposo senza moglie; L’avviso ai maritati; Il maritato disperato.

Il matrimonio segreto was Cimarosa’s 64th or so opera. Written for Vienna, it was his greatest success, and a hit throughout Europe. It may not be profound, but it’s an entertaining, human work. The opera takes place in the Bologna household of the merchant Geronimo, elderly, deaf, grumpy, but generally benevolent. His younger daughter Carolina has secretly married his secretary Paolino. Geronimo’s elder daughter – the shrill and vain Elisetta – is contracted to marry Count Robinson, but he takes one look at her and falls in love with Carolina instead. The married couple think of turning to Geronimo’s sister Fidalma for help … but she wants Paolino for herself. Matters come to a head when sister and aunt persuade Geronimo to lock Carolina in a convent, and the couple are discovered stealing out of the house to elope.

The lively, elegant score was a clear influence on the young Rossini, particularly the splendid ensembles. The musical highlights of Act I include a delightful duet (No. 2: ‘Io ti lascio’) for the young lovers; and a sextet (No. 6: ‘Senza senza ceremonia’) for the arrival of the Count. The quartet (No. 7: ‘Sento in petto un freddo gelo’) is the glory of the act; it consists of a beautiful adagio launched by the Count, and culminates in an allegro moderato climax with the fitting words ‘Un orgasmo hò dentro il seno’. It looks forward to similar musical orgasms in Rossini, such as the sextet in La Cenerentola or the ensembles in Matilde di Shabran.

The finale (No. 10: ‘Tu mi dici che del conte’) contains a fine sextet, and ends in a lively stretta; the play with nonsensical syllables influenced the famous finale of L’italiana in Algeri.

Act II opens with a brilliant bass duet (No. 11: ‘Se fiato in corpo avete’), full of fleet singing and semiquavers. The act also includes the big tenor aria (No. 13: ‘Pria che spunti in ciel l’aurora), a suave andnate / allegro number; and an excellent quintet (No. 16: ‘Deh! lasciate ch’io respiri’). The finale (No. 18: ‘Il parlar di Carolina’) contains an exquisite largo duet section (‘Deh, ti conforta, o cara!’) and ends in a wonderful, joyous stretta, full of streams of triplets like festive streamers.

Never had such a dramatic work produced such an effect in Vienna, Fétis noted; Leopold II enjoyed it so much he invited the composer and performers to dinner, then ordered the biggest encore in operatic history: the entire work. It was probably light relief after the serious business of the day: signing a treaty of alliance with Prussia against the revolutionary French government.

The opera was performed in Naples a year later with modifications and new numbers; the public were enthusiastic, and Il matrimonio was performed on 110 consecutive nights. The work was popular well into the nineteenth century, particularly in France. The artist Delacroix called it perfection itself. “No other musician has this symmetry, this expressiveness and sense of the appropriate, this gaiety and tenderness, and above all … incomparable elegance.” Stendhal loved Cimarosa, Mozart and Shakespeare above all other artists; Cimarosa was the Molière among composers, ‘le divin’: “His songs are the most beautiful the soul has conceived.” Clément called it the masterpiece of masterpieces in the buffo genre, while Fétis hailed Cimarosa as one of the greatest musicians Italy ever produced, and praised the comic verve and piquant wit of this fertile genius. Berlioz, though, found it interminable: “nearly as tiresome as the Marriage of Figaro without being anything like so musical”. It has never really left the stage.

WATCH: Carlos Feller (Geronimo), Barbara Daniels (Elisetta), Georgine Resick (Carolina), Marta Szirmay (Fidalma), Claudio Nicolai (Conte Robinsone), and David Kuebler (Paolino), with Hilary Griffiths conducting the Drottingholm Court Theatre Orchestra. Directed by Michael Hampe. Schwetzingen, 1986.

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