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Domenico CIMAROSA (1749 – 1801)
Il matrimonio segreto (The Secret Marriage) (1792)
Carlos Feller (bass) – Geronimo; Barbara Daniels (soprano) – Elisetta; Georgine Resick (soprano) – Carolina); Marta Szirmay (mezzo) – Fidalma; Claudio Nicolai (bass) – Il Conte Robinson; David Kuebler (tenor) – Paolino; Werner Sindemann (actor) – Un servitore di Geronimo
Drottningholm Court Theatre Orchestra/Hilary Griffith
Directed for Stage by Michael Hampe; Stage Design: Jan Schlubach; Costumes: Martin Rupprecht; Directed for TV by Claus Viller
A stage production of the Oper der Stadt Köln from the Schwetzinger Festspiele. Recorded live at the Rokokotheater Schwetzingen, 3 – 8 June 1986
EUROARTS DVD 2054548 [153:00]

Il matrimonio segreto
was premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 7 February 1792, two months after Mozart’s death in the same city. It has some claims to be the only opera buffa of the period, besides Mozart’s works, that has survived until the present day. Although not exactly a standard work, it does have the occasional outing. Maybe Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia should also be mentioned, but otherwise Mozart’s genius has completely overshadowed the efforts of his contemporaries. In its day, Matrimonio was held in very high esteem. It has gone down in the history books as the opera that was so appreciated by the Austrian Emperor, Leopold II, when he saw its second performance, that he wanted the whole work repeated that same evening. He invited the cast to a banquet before they had to enter the stage again, but still ... poor singers.

I can understand that the Emperor, the man who said to Mozart that there were "too many notes" in his music, might not have been able to appreciate the deeper dimensions of his scores. On the other hand Cimarosa’s more shallow, elegant, melodic, always inventive writing was more easily digested. This work actually brims over with gorgeous music, composed by a maestro who knew the possibilities and limitations of his singers and who also knew how to use the orchestra, not only for discreet accompaniments but to create atmosphere through clever use of instrumental colour. The lively overture, light and airy, is as good an example as any. Here it is played on period instruments by the expert Drottningholm Court Theatre Orchestra, being even more transparent than ever. He creates ethereal sounds with the flutes and in Paolino’s long Act 2 aria (track 30) he has a solo clarinet playing an obbligato part reminding us of Mozart’s use of the basset horn in La clemenza di Tito. It should also be mentioned that, just as with Mozart, he prefers ensembles to arias and although he doesn’t depict the personality of the characters in the same way, he still manages to hold the listeners’ attention. There is hardly a dull moment, unless it be the long quartet in Act 1 (track 15), which is a bit static.

I fell in love with this opera many years ago when I found the old Cetra recording in a second-hand store, awful sound quality but with marvellous singing from Alda Noni, Giulietta Simionato, Cesare Valletti and Sesto Bruscantini, to mention the most prominent names. In the late 1970s DG released a version conducted by Barenboim with Arleen Augér, Julia Varady, Ryland Davies and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. That was a highly entertaining issue with excellent sound and inspired singing and acting although the all-Italian Cetra cast feels more authentic. Both recordings are well worth seeking out, but I have to say that this German-based production is a worthy competitor. Filmed and recorded live in a beautiful18th century theatre (I believe), with one of the best period instrument bands in the pit and with simple but efficient sets and period costumes, it brings us as close as possible to what Emperor Leopold might have seen at the Burgtheater more than 200 years ago. Of course there was no Michael Hampe at hand to direct the action then. It is in a way a minimalistic performance: a few doors (always needed for what my wife calls "run-in-run-out operas") a table centre-stage and a few chairs that are moved about to create suitable groupings of people. Lighting is sparse and much of the second act plays mainly in darkness with the actors’ candles shedding the necessary light. There is also some amusing background action with the chef flashing by carrying sundry trays. Generally there is such "go" in the performance that 2½ hours just flew by and afterwards, having had a nice supper, we ordered the team to "play it again, Sam". Hilary Griffith’s work in the pit is flexible and he is always careful with dynamics, recitatives, of which there are quite a lot, are delivered in lively fashion by artists that are actors, which is a must in a performance like this, where most of the time we have them in close-ups. Moreover the production team have been very successful in picking artists with the right looks for their parts and with suitably contrasting voices.

I was very impressed by David Kuebler, whose beautiful rounded tenor is a pleasure to listen to: elegant and with clean runs and trills, and in the second act aria (the one with the clarinet) he also demonstrates his dramatic capacity. And he is a very convincing actor.

I haven’t so far given even an outline of the plot, and I don’t intend to do so, since readers who don’t already know the opera shouldn’t be bereft of the pleasure to find out for themselves. There are of course a lot of complications but I’ve seen many operas with far sillier plots. Anyway Georgine Resick as Carolina, the girl Paolino loves, has exactly the right innocent looks and has a lovely voice, which also lends itself to the darker mood of her second act recitativo accompagnato (track 34). Carlos Feller is of course famous for his buffo roles and he has that all-embracing stage presence that in the theatre can be felt even from the balcony. He also sings Geronimo’s part perfectly, and I mean "sing", for although there is a lot of "business" going on he never sacrifices the singing. Just listen to his Un matrimonio nobile (track 7). Barbara Daniels as Carolina’s elder sister Elisetta, and the formidable Marta Szirmay as Geronimo’s sister Fidalma, also make wonderful contributions and Claudio Nicolai, although a little shaky vocally, is a noble Count Robinson and the duet scenes with Geronimo are really entertaining with perfect timing and innovative direction from Hampe.

So far I have made no secret of the fact that I enjoyed this performance immensely, and since the quality of sound and pictures are all one could wish for from a 20-year-old recording, and since there are no less than 43 tracks, one can pick and choose one’s favourite scenes, I have no qualms about recommending this DVD emphatically. By the way, as soon as I have finished this review I’m going back for yet another command performance.

Göran Forsling



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