Cimarosa is regarded as one of the foremost Italian opera composers
during the second part of the 18th century. He vied
with Salieri and Paisiello, the latter said to have been intriguing
against Cimarosa, just as there is said to have been animosity
between Mozart and Salieri. Cimarosa grew up near Naples, where
his family later moved. There he was able to get a good education,
not only in music. When he was 23 he got his first commission
to write an opera, a buffa entitled Le stravaganze del conte,
the overture to which is on this disc. It was a success, as
was his next essay in the genre. Soon he was sought after throughout
Italy. In the mid-1780s he moved to Florence and in 1787 received
an invitation from Empress Catherine II of Russia to come to
St Petersburg, where he stayed four years. In 1792 he moved
to Vienna on an invitation from Emperor Leopold II and there
produced his masterpiece, Il matrimonio segreto, which
is regarded as one of the best buffa operas ever. Today his
reputation rests practically only on this work, which is still
performed. It is also famous in the history books for being
so appreciated by the Emperor that the company had to reprise
the whole work the same evening. This disc presents the overture
in a world premiere recording of the Vienna version which is
longer than the established version.
later returned to Naples, where he was politically active in
the liberal party and was condemned to death. Through influential
friends this sentence was commuted to banishment. He planned
to go back to St Petersburg but his health deteriorated quickly
and he died in Venice in 1801.
list of works is impressive and only his operas, most of them
in the buffa genre, come to close to one hundred. Even though
most of them are forgotten today there are occasional revivals.
I was lucky enough to catch a performance of Il mereato di
Malmantile in Dubrovnik more than thirty years ago. There
I also heard and saw the short intermezzo giocoso Il maestro
di cappella for bass-baritone and orchestra, hilariously
sung and acted by the great Sesto Bruscantini.
music is light and melodic, very often with a joyous atmosphere.
He was a skilled orchestrator, even though he lacked the individuality
and the psychological insight of Mozart. On the surface the
two are rather similar and Mozart lovers should find Cimarosa
to their liking.
twelve overtures on this disc – and there is obviously more
to come since this one is marked ‘vol. 1’ – are mainly lively
and energetic and make a good evening’s listen. It is not wall-paper
music, since there are always attractive things to keep the
listener alert. It can be an unexpected turn of a phrase here
or a sudden general pause. It is no wonder, to judge from the
overture, that his debut opera Le stravaganze del conte,
became a success, since it is truly infectious, fizzing along
at rollicking speed. The Matrimonio segreto overture
starts surprisingly solemn for a buffa with the first chords
sounding almost like Die Zauberflöte, but then Cimarosa
lets his hair down in his accustomed manner. This Vienna version
differs in several ways from what we normally hear: among other
things there is an oboe solo as the second theme which was omitted
later. For a good recording of that version – and a superb reading
of the complete opera – I strongly recommend Barenboim’s recording
on DG (review).
Il ritorno di Don Calendrino Cimarosa composed an extra
long overture, partly through recycling the overture from L’Armida
imaginara and adding two new movements, a beautiful Andantino
and a spirited concluding Allegro.
is enough variation in the music to allow the disc to spin until
the end without the need for a pause – partly of course since
it spans a period of twenty years, during which the composer
undoubtedly developed. High-spirited most of it is but he also
writes a slow mid-section in the Il convito overture,
where there is a fine French horn solo.
Amoretti is well versed in the music of this period and Esterházy
Sinfonia is a splendid modern instrument ensemble. The producer/engineer
couple Ibolya Tóth and János Bohus have also done a good job
with the sonics.
there is probably little chance to hear these overtures live
and since other recordings are in short supply this is a golden
opportunity to make the acquaintance of some of the most spirited
music of the late 18th century.