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Domenico CIMAROSA (1749 -1801)
Il Matrimonio Segreto, Dramma giocoso in two acts
First performed at the Vienna, Burgtheater, 7 February 1792
Il Signor Geronimo, a rich merchant, Alfonso Antoniozzi (bass); Elisetta, his daughter, Janet Williams (sop); Carolina, also his daughter, Susan Patterson (sop); Fidalma, widowed sister of Signor Geronimo, Gloria Banditelli (mezzo); Il Conte Robinson, Petteri Salomaa (bass); Paolino, a clerk to Signor Geronimo, William Matteuzzi (ten);
Fortepiano. Hans Ludwig Hirsch
Orchestra of Eastern Netherlands/ Gabriele Bellini
Recorded Musiekcentrum Enschede, Holland. 26 August - 8 September 1991
ARTS 447117-2 [3CDs: 59.27 + 70.12 + 62.04]

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Domenico Cimarosa composed no fewer than 65 operatic works. The first was presented in Naples in 1772. Subsequently his works were produced throughout Italy including Venice and Rome. In 1789 Mozart wrote an aria for inclusion in one of his earlier operas. Cimarosa obtained the post of Royal Organist in Naples in 1779 and from 1787 to 1791 he composed for the court of Tsarina Catherine II in St. Petersburg. Unable to stand the cold he returned to Vienna and was appointed as court Kapelmeister, a post coveted by Mozart. It was in Vienna that Cimarosa composed Il matrimonio segreto, (The secret marriage). The second performance was in the presence of Emperor Leopold II, for whose Coronation Mozart had composed La Clemenza di Tito, premiered on September 6th 1791. So successful were the performances of Il matrimonio segreto that Leopold ordered supper to be served to the cast and the performance repeated, complete; a unique event in the recorded history of staged opera. The work was widely performed in Europe during the composerís lifetime and after. It later proved a favourite of Verdi.

The first performance occurred barely nine weeks after Mozartís death, just short of his 36th birthday. Just what it was that enabled Cimarosa to gain the patronage, and consequent financial security that enabled him to compose without the strains and stresses imposed on Mozart, can only be conjectured. However, whilst the works of Cimarosa cannot claim the genius of Mozart, this opera in particular is more than the work of a Ďroutinierí journeyman. The opera opens with a scintillating overture (CD 1 tr. 1) that could well pass as minor Mozart. The plot tells the humorous story of the rich merchant Geronimo (bass) who wants to find aristocratic husbands for his two daughters, Carolina (sop) and Elisetta (sop). He doesnít know that Carolina has already secretly married Paolino (ten) who introduces Count Robinson (bass) with the intention that he seeks the hand of Elisetta. Needless to say Robinson fancies Carolina instead. Elisetta aided by her aunt Fidelma (mez) complains to Geronimo who orders Carolina to a convent. At this point Paolino is forced to admit their secret marriage. Geronimo takes this philosophically whilst Count Robinson switches his attention to Elisetta. Fidelma is left empty-handed.

The opera comprises a series of arias, duets and trios interspersed and linked by recitative. Mozartian influence is manifest in the extended vibrant ensemble act finales involving all the solo singers (CD 2 tr. 6 and CD 3 tr. 13). Gabriele Bellini moves the music along with appropriate vivacity and the recording is clear and well balanced. Recorded in 1991 several of the then young singers have gone on to significant careers. The American Susan Patterson is fresh, agile and steady as Carolina (CD 1 trs.2-4 and CD 2 tr. 4). She is the soprano who sings the heavier role of Leonora in Chandosís recent A Masked Ball in English . As Paolino, William Matteuzzi is flexible and expressive and while not ideally mellifluous has good diction (CD 2 tr 12). The high tessitura of Elisetta is taken with aplomb and good tone by Janet Williams (CD 3 tr. 10). Poor Fidalma, left on the shelf despite the scheming is strongly sung, but with a slight edge to the tone, by Gloria Banditelli (CD 1 tr. 10). Alfonso Antoniozzi who sings on Opera Raraís newly issued Francesca di Foix (review) sings with full and incisive tone (CD 1 tr. 6). His native Italian trips off his lips in Se fiato il corpo avete (CD 2 tr. 8), the duet with Count Robinson. This duet for two basses is a veritable tour de force in this recording with both Antoniozzi and Petteri Salomaa singing with good firm tone and incisive diction. Salomaa is also heard to good effect in Count Robinsonís duet with Elisetta (CD 3 tr. 12).

The quality of performance and recording make this issue a strong competitor with the starry cast DG issue under Barenboim. To my ears that set lacks the Italian influence, both on the podium and among the singers that this performance enjoys and which gives it such vivacity. The plot is buried in an interesting but rather diffuse essay in the accompanying booklet. This limitation, together with the lack of a track-related synopsis and of track points in the full Italian libretto, are the only drawbacks to this enjoyable recording. However, this Arts Music issue provides an economical opportunity to get to know the mature work of a composer whose operas are far too often compared, unfavourably, with Mozartís mature ones. That is to compare the great with the merely good. In my view, Cimarosaís Il matrimono segreto can stand alongside anything Mozart wrote before Die Entführung. This well sung, conducted and recorded performance, at bargain price, will allow all opera enthusiasts to put that view to the test and also get to know a work that has passed many by. It will also help to understand why Il matrimono segreto is one of the few 18th century comic operas that has maintained its place in the repertoire until the present day.

Robert J Farr


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