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Domenico CIMAROSA (1749–1801)
Overtures: Volume 1
Voldomiro (1787) [4:06]
La baronessa Stramba (1786) [6:16]
Le stravaganze del conte (1772) [3:27]
Il matrimonio segreto (1792) [6:00]*
L’infedeltŕ fedele (1779) [5:26]
Il ritorno di Don Calendrino (1778) [9:11]
Il falegname (1780) [5:22]
Cleopatra (1789) [4:21]
Il convito (1782) [9:12]
La vergine del sole (1788) [5:34]
Il credulo (1786) [4:53]
L’impresario in augustie (1786) [5:18]
Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia/Alessandro Amoretti
rec. Phoenix Studio, Hungary, 6-9 April 2000.
Previously released on Marco Polo 8.225181
* First recording of Vienna version
NAXOS 8.570508 [69:06]

Domenico 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.

Cimarosa 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.

His 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.

Cimarosa’s 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.

The 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).

For 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.

There 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.

Alessandro 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.

Since 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.

Göran Forsling

 

 


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