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Cimarosa, The Secret Marriage: Soloists, Orchestra of Scottish Opera.  Conductor: Garry Walker.  Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 22.11.2008 (SRT)

Geronimo – Andrew Slater
Fidalma – Wendy Dawn Thompson
Elisetta – Renate Arends
Carolina – Rebecca Bottone
Count Robinson – Quirijn de Lang
Paolino – Matthew Garrett

Orchestra of Scottish Opera
Garry Walker (conductor)

Harry Fehr (director)
Tom Rogers (designer)
Johanna Town (lighting designer)
Kally Lloyd-Jones (movement director)

Cimarosa was a far more popular composer than Mozart during their lifetimes.  Now, however, his work is rarely performed.  Based on the merits of this production that seems a shame, though there are problems with this piece, in spite of the great production it has been given here.

Harry Fehr and Tom Rogers embrace this domestic comedy for what it is.  The naturalistic set gives us the interior of a solidly bourgeois house in Britain of the 1950s.  We see the central hallway and a peep into the drawing room (for Act 1) and Geronimo’s study and Carolina’s bedroom (for Act 2).  The set is charmingly designed and utterly absorbing, with some well observed touches, such as the painfully pretentious Classical painting (or is it a relief?) that adorns the upper landing.  The Geronimo family are clearly desperate to be elevated into the aristocracy through marrying the nauseating Count Robinson to whichever daughter happens to be available.  The drawing room and study remind one of Hyacinth Bucket’s residence in Keeping Up Appearances, while Carolina’s rebel credentials are reinforced by her posters of Elvis and James Dean in her bedroom.  Costumes are the height of 1950s fashion for the ladies, while solidly formal for the men, until, that is, Carolina and Paolino change into leather jackets for their planned escape.  The approach works very well, and the movement of the singers is well planned too: something is always going on somewhere, so that the time doesn’t drag during the frequent ritornelli that introduce arias.

The singing is of a great standard from everyone.  Rebecca Bottone, by far the best thing about last year’s lackluster Seraglio, shines as the cheeky Carolina.  She inhabits the character’s grace and recklessness, while her crystal clear voice is perfectly suited to Cimarosa’s light music.  Her top notes, which she occasionally has to summon out of nowhere, are pure silver.  Her sister Elisetta is just as well taken by Renate Arends, who shows off the character’s more waspish persona.  She copes admirably with her character’s runs and leaps, and her sung English is remarkable for a native Dutch speaker.  The other Dutch member of the cast is Quirijn de Lang whose English is every bit as good.  He is a young and interesting Count Robinson, no duffish old bore, and his warm baritone fits the comic characterisation very fittingly.  As Geronimo Andrew Slater is a good contrast, with a voice which lies a little higher yet still conveys the authority required for a father figure.  He manages the character’s mood swings with good comic timing, while his patter and deafness jokes don’t grate in the way that they could do.  Wendy Dawn Thompson is a very strong Fidlama.  Only Matthew Garrett feels a little lightweight as Paolino: all the notes are there, but the power is often missing.

Garry Walker conducts a sprightly account of the score with reduced forces in the orchestra, while Donald Pippin’s English translation fits like a glove, the colloquialisms bringing this tale a little nearer to us (“Bloody hell: you’re my fiancée?!”).  The company have given us a near ideal performance of this work, though the evening does still feel rather long, especially in the second half, where a few judicious cuts might have helped the dramatic edge.  Scottish Opera are performing at the top of their game at present and deserve to be well supported.

Simon Thompson

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