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Domenico CIMAROSA (1749–1801)
Il matrimonio segreto - Comic Opera in Two Acts (1792)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) – Geronimo, a wealthy merchant; Julia Varady (soprano) – Elisetta, his elder daughter, promised in marriage to the Count; Arleen Augér (soprano) – Carolina, his younger daughter, secretly married to Paolino; Julia Hamari (contralto) – Fidalma, Geronimo’s sister, widow; Alberto Rinaldi (baritone) – the Count; Ryland Davies (tenor) – Paolino, young clerk to Geronimo
English Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
rec. George Watson’s College, Edinburgh, August-September 1975, Henry Wood Rehearsal Hall, London, August 1976
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 476 5303 [3 CDs: 56:45 + 59:39 + 49:40]

Even if this opera is rarely heard today it has gone down in the history books, due to its sensational premiere. It was on 7 February 1792 at the Burgtheater in Vienna that it was first seen and heard. Emperor Leopold II was so enchanted that, after a supper for the artists and the composer, he ordered the entire opera to be repeated. It is easy to understand that it was appreciated, since this is one of the most fizzing and joyful of operas. The score is filled with attractive music, melodic, expertly scored and the libretto, though drawing on traditional clichés, is well crafted and not too silly. In other words: a charmer. That it can’t measure up to Mozart’s best works in individuality and characterisation is another matter. Maybe that’s another reason for the early success: it is straightforward and not too complex.
There have been several recordings. Early on I got to know it from the old Cetra version from the early 1950s. In spite of execrable sound and scrappy orchestra the singing is uniformly good and executed by some of the best Italian singers of the day. There is an authenticity about that performance that the present thirty plus years can’t quite muster. Alda Noni, Giulietta Simionato, Cesare Valletti and Sesto Bruscantini are still well-known names and here they are in the early blossoming of their careers.
There have been another handful as well that I haven’t heard, but just a year ago I reviewed a DVD with an excellent modern cast – well, it was filmed twenty years ago - directed by Michael Hampe in minimalist fashion (see review) and with good actors all. This is also a highly enjoyable performance.
The extra frisson of this DG set with superb sound that belies its age and lively playing by the ECO under Barenboim make it still the ultimate recommendation. Barenboim was always a splendid Mozart conductor and this is music in the same mould. Add to this six world-class singers.
It’s true that besides Alberto Rinaldi there isn’t a native Italian in the cast, but coached by Gwyn Morris they all sound expertly idiomatic. It is only when making direct comparisons with the old Cetra that one notices that where the DG team have learnt their lessons admirably the Italians just give forth with their mother tongue. For sheer vocalism the DG singers have nothing to fear. Arleen Augér’s silvery voice is so perfectly suited to Carolina, where the lively and pert Alda Noni has a certain acidity in her tone that robs her interpretation of some warmth. Giulietta Simionato was one of the great mezzo-sopranos of her time. She is magnificent but also sometimes too blustery. Julia Hamari is more restrained and so more in tune with the action. With Simionato one gets a feeling that she prefers Amneris to Fidalma. Cesare Valletti has possibly never been surpassed in modern times in this kind of repertoire but Ryland Davies was at the height of his powers thirty years ago and runs him close in elegance and mellifluous delivery. As the supreme buffo of the day Sesto Bruscantini was an ideal Geronimo, light and fluent and sometimes hectoring but always with the elegance that was his hallmark. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau here makes one of his best appearances in this kind of repertoire, on a par with his first Don Giovanni (for Fricsay). He audibly relishes every minute.
I bought the original LP set pretty soon after it was released and was extremely happy finally to be able to hear this marvellous music in first class sound. It took me some time to come to terms with the singing – the Cetra voices always rang at the back of my head. After a while, though, I realised that the DG team had their own validity and actually sang better in several cases. Returning now to the set after an interval of some years, I only needed to dip into this scene or that to refresh my memory and find confirmation that this is the benchmark recording. That said, I still wouldn’t be without the Cetra.
The booklet has photos of the soloists and the conductor, though in some cases not the ones from the original booklet. We get texts and English translations (by Lionel Salter) but the original had translations into French and German as well. Regrettably the extended essays by Dietmar Holland and Stanley Sadie are gone.
None of this should deter anyone from acquiring one of the best examples of recorded opera buffa in the entire catalogue.
Göran Forsling

see also review by Terry Barfoot





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