Domenico Cimarosa: Il matrimonio segreto (1792)

Opera in two acts. Running Time: 2 hours 21 minutes.

This is probably the only non-Mozart opera from the 18th century that I really personally like, so it makes sense for it to be the first 18th century opera on this blog. Incidentally it is scored for the same instrumentation as Mozart’s last opera La clemenza di Tito. The recording I am reviewing here is the 1956 Nino Sanzogno recording with Luigi Alva as Paolino although I have included indications for the two numbers cut from this recording, I have also listened to those!

PLOT: Late-18th century, Bologna. Geronimo has two daughters, Carolina, the younger who is secretly married to her father’s clerk Paolino, and Elisetta, who he is trying to marry off to the rich English Count Robinson. Fidalma is Geronimo’s sister who runs the household and secretly has a thing for Paolino herself. Things are complicated when the Count decides he wants to marry Carolina instead.

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: (81 minutes)

Scene 1: A drawing room in the home of Geronimo.

0: The overture **, is a furious favourite of mine which used to be a popular concert piece. Totally comic and sort of an odd blend between Mozart and something anticipating Rossini, with one really good ascending melody first approached from the violas and bassoons and later repeated three times.

6: It is dawn and Paolino tries to calm his wife in a lovely duet **. She wants him to reveal the truth to her father but he has already written to Count Robinson regarding a marriage to Elisetta and with the elder sister married off, Geronimo will likely not object as much regarding the secret marriage of his younger daughter.

14: A second duet for husband and wife * as they take leave of each other for the day.

18: Geronimo’s cavatina *,  in which he anticipates his daughter rising to the title of Countess, is possibly the arch-typical buffo basso aria.

24: A trio for the three ladies * in which Carolina pretends to be jealous of Elisetta for her soon-to-be ennoblement to an orchestra effect that sounds like the braying of an ass. Fidalma breaks them up and after Carolina huffs off she tells Elisetta that she is in love with someone herself, but refuses to name names to her niece.

30: Fidalma tells us, the audience, that it is Paolino she loves in a rather tender aria **.

36: The arrival of Count Robinson is very much without ceremony *, but an okay bass aria including some rapid fire interjections from the three ladies and to a lesser extent from the two other men. This is followed by Robinson mixing up Elisetta with Carolina and falling for the wrong sister (especially after making a second shot at Fidalma)

49: Now for a long and somewhat stilted inning (eight and a half minutes) in which the Count and the three ladies conclude on only one thing: things are not going the way they want them to regarding this who is marrying the Count thing. Watch out particularly for the last ninety seconds when things finally start to warm up *. It probably is more successful on stage live than listening to it at home.

Scene 2: Geronimo’s study.

53: After two minutes of recitative in which Paolino is flattened by the Count’s decision to marry Carolina for only half the dowry price he was offered for Elisetta, Robinson dispatches the already existing husband off to daddy to conclude the arrangement in a duet *. Paolino is in anguish but what else can he do?

59: Carolina rejects Robinson’s offer of marriage in what is probably the best number in the opera **.

64, 68, 72, 76, 78: The sixteen minute long finale starts immediately with no recitative breaks from Carolina’s aria, although both she and the Count have run off. The finale is divided into five segments: First *: The other four come on with Elisetta telling her father that the Count pays her no attention at all and Paolino tells him that the feast set in honour of the Count has been prepared so they go in. Second: Carolina runs on in a cold sweat panic with the Count in hot pursuit *. Elisetta comes upon the two and accuses her sister of trying to actively seduce the Count from her. Third, Fidalma comes in to tell the two girls to shut up as their father is about to return to a dance tune on the violin and bassoon *. Paolino has no idea what is going on (so he says at least) and a nice sextet ensues in which no one cares to know what is going on. Fourth, Things start to pick up a little with the three women chirping away * but the two bassos ruin it. In the last three minutes characters are reduced to nonsense syllabics **.

ACT 2: (60 minute).

Scene 1: The study.

1: After a brief recitative we have yet another long number (eight minutes) for the Count and, this time, Geronimo *.  Most of the interest here lies in the orchestra (particularly the violin solo).

13: Robinson tells Paolino to tell Carolina that she is the one getting married and then Fidalma comes on. Paolino confides in her but she doesn’t understand the situation and thinks he is making a very welcomed pass at her and tells him that she will marry him and he faints. Carolina arrives to find her husband in her aunt’s arms and suspects the worst as a trio ensues ** which has an unsuspected power. This is one of my three favourite numbers in the score.

20: Paolino has difficulty convincing his wife that he loves only her but he wins her over with a warm little tenor aria ** in which he proposes that they elope.

{A number for the Count and Elisetta in which he attempts to repel her by claiming to be violent and insane is cut from this recording. I would give it ** although it really does nothing for the plot.}

27: Fidalma and Elisetta team up against Carolina and try to win over Geronimo to their side in a very chatty trio **.

33: Now something a little different, a recitativo accompagnato *** for Carolina as she contemplates how everyone is ganging up on her for little reason. Moments of the orchestration here are absolutely amazing as the strings float about on musical foam.

37: Geronimo orders that the following day Carolina will be sent to a convent. Her only friend now is the clarinet which continues to follow her about. The music is severe but not all that interesting apart from its dramatic weight *. There is an okay flourish at the end.

{An aria for Elisetta in which she expresses satisfaction on her impending revenge on her sister is cut. I would give it ** yet although it has a rather attractive vocal line for the soprano, all it does is expound more of her paranoia, which is starting to get on my nerves.}

41: Elisetta and the Count have an oddly cordial duet * as they discuss Carolina and bid each other good night (they come off more like spouses than at any moment the Count has been alone with Carolina).

Scene 2: In front of Carolina’s bedroom.

45: The finale which this scene consists of in its entirety, starts off with Paolino and Carolina making the final plans for their elopement **. This is the longest part of the number (over one third of its 15 minutes). They go into her room.

50: Elisetta comes on in a fury and tries to wake the whole house up but at first only gets her aunt and father. She claims wrongly that she has heard the Count in Carolina’s rooms. After two minutes of her manic soprano freak out * the Count does come out, of his own bedroom!

53: The trio bang on Carolina’s door and the two lovers are forced to come out. Paolino and Carolina plead with the shocked quartet for mercy **. At first Geronimo is enraged.

56: The Count decides to straighten everything out by marrying Elisetta instead after all because he is so much in love with Carolina that he could not bear to have her suffer and not be forgiven by her father. After the lovers go on for a while pleading with daddy for forgiveness he finally relents and all rejoice **.

COMMENTS:

This is a cute opera adapted from a minor classic of British literature The Clandestine Marriage by George Colman the Elder and David Garrick, which also has the notorious distinction of having the longest encore ever in opera, namely the entire score. As the oft told story goes, Leopold of Austria loved it so much that he took the entire cast out to dinner after the premiere and afterwards he ordered a repeat performance! There is nothing particularly demanding here other than the massive length of the score (it can be over three hours in performance), although the orchestration is interestingly rich given its size, particularly Cimarosa’s usage of the horns and bassoons as well as the upper strings. Not having a chorus and concentrating on just six soloists is rather refreshing as well. If not for the fact that it is an attempt at comedy, Elisetta’s paranoia about Carolina trying to steal the Count from her is rather neurotic and it becomes tiresome rather quickly. Fidalma’s infatuation with the young Paolino is rather more amusing and leads to three rather grand numbers. The second act is more consistently good musically than the first, although there are highlightable numbers everywhere. I think it goes without saying that the opera survives based on the attractiveness of the Paulino and Carolina, we are meant to rout for them the entire time. In spite of a few minor patches (if one number were to be singled out as not as good as the rest it would be the quartet for the Count and the ladies in act one), and the bizarre behaviour of the two basso characters changing their minds all the time about everything, this is a very good opera. A-.

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