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Domenico CIMAROSA (1749-1801)
Il Matrimonio Segreto (1792)
Renate Girolami (baritone, Graf Robinson)
Donato Di Stefano (bass, Geronimo)
Loriana Castellano (mezzo soprano, Fidalma)
Klara Ek (soprano, Elisetta)
Giulia Semenzato (soprano, Carolina)
Jesús Álvarez (tenor, Paolino)
Orchester der Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro De Marchi
rec. August 2016, Tiroler Landestheater Innsbruk
CPO 555 295-2 [3 CDs: 197:33]

We are told that Domenico Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto is the only opera to ever have had the honor of being repeated in full at its premičre, and it has even today remained one of this composer’s more enduring creations with a handful of recordings currently available. This particular recording was made on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the Innsbruck Early Music Festival Weeks in a performance prepared according to today’s historical performance practice, with original instruments and with an injection of that sense of fun in the whole event that caused its success with that aristocratic crowd back in 1793. The tradition of opera buffa here experiences a “high point full of irresistible moments of fun, on the stage and in the music” as stated by conductor Alessandro De Marchi, who also argues for respect to the original score, rejecting the idea of cuts commonly used in recent years: “...precisely these repetitions are interesting because in them the female and male singers, just as then was still the practice, are able to vary and improvise.”

The narrative takes place within the household of wealthy Bologna citizen Geronimo. He has two daughters, one of whom, Carolina, is already secretly married to his young secretary Paolino. There follows a farcical situation comedy in which Graf Robinson, tempted by a substantial dowry, has the hots for Carolina rather than the older daughter Elisetta. Comic attempts at persuasion of one kind or another follow, including the count telling Elisetta all of his bad habits and physical defects in an attempt to put her off. The whole thing builds to a dramatic larger-than-life finale in which the truth comes out and the Graf and Elisetta decide to get married after all.

The music for Il matrimonio segreto stands at the intersection between Baroque opera to the classicism of Mozart and the Bel Canto era of Rossini, thankfully being divested of the often tortuous plots and heavy morality of Baroque, but with the action moving along swiftly and uninterrupted by ballet and other impediments. The atmosphere in this performance is energetic and lively, and you can sense the attentiveness of the audience, enjoying their occasional murmurs and laughs as if including you in the joy of the whole thing. Most of the cast is excellent. The female voices are all very good, and Renate Girolami is superbly characterised as the blustering Count Robinson. Donato Di Stefano and Jesús Álvarez are arguably the weaker links here, sounding a bit one-dimensional at times but warming up in their roles a bit more as the plot thickens - Geronimo as the father figure typically has no real control over what his daughters end up doing. Paolino is more of a foil for the narrative set-up than anything else, and we are all left wondering what the lovely Carolina sees in him by the end.

Of the alternative recordings, the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim et al on Deutsche Grammophon (review) has become something of a classic and will always be recommendable. This is a recording with class and refinement in every aspect of its performance, but it doesn’t have the edgy live quality of Alessandro De Marchi’s recording. The Orchestra of Eastern Netherlands with Gabriele Bellini on the Arts label is good, but larger-scale sounding (review) and infused with the atmosphere of an empty concert hall rather than a packed theatre. There is another from Simone Perugini and the Fęte Galante Baroque Orchestre on the VDC label but this seems to be part of an odd series of noisy quasi-pirated recordings which are best avoided.

If you are looking for a new version of Il matrimonio segreto which is full of colourful vitality and immersive live atmosphere then this CPO recording fits the bill perfectly. As a live recording it is well balanced, and mercifully lacks much in the way of incidental bangs and thumps and heavy feet on the stage, the voices all remaining well focused in a natural stereo soundstage. The orchestra is also well recorded. Alessandro De Marchi paces the dramatic action very well indeed while leaving space for those glorious little comedy inflections that must have been even more fun when seen live.

Dominy Clements

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