Il Matrimonio Segreto in Brooklyn

The piece is obscure enough to be
news (outside music schools, itís rarely given more than once in twenty
years). None of its arias or ensembles are especially well known (or worthy
of that distinction), but all are pleasant enough to pass the time, and the
whole piece is so sprightly that at the world premiere, after a celebratory
banquet, the emperor said, ìSing me an encore. In fact, do the whole piece
againî ó and they did. (This is the same emperor who hadnít much cared
for Clemenza di Tito a few months before.)

Myself, still unable to hum any of Matrimonio after four
exposures over the years, Iíd prefer a bolder choice: Paisiello, Martin y
Soler, Salieri, Simone Mayr. They all wrote light operas (and not so light
operas) for the same discriminating audience as Mozart and Cimarosa, and
their works, famous then, are far less well known today. Iíve heard
several, all worthy. Too, like Cimarosa, they tell us interesting things
about why Mozart stands out from the pack, and where Rossini and the future
of Italian opera came from.

Matrimonio Segreto is a cross between the buffo tradition (its
characters are traditional commedia dellí arte figures) and the
comedy of manners ó the libretto was derived from Garrickís play The
Clandestine Marriage
. When, in Jonathan Millerís production (devised
for Glyndebourne in 1992, but cheap to revive), Colin Coad as Girolamo, with
his buffo belly, confronts Simon Best as Lord Robinson, with his aristocratic
English slouch, we know just where we are: that feature of both genres, two
pompous fellows fiercely at cross purposes. Mozart had set such moments;
Rossini and Donizetti would make capital of them as well. Money, honor,
snobbery and love contend for victory, and honor gets the worst of it, as
usual. That might be the difference between tragedy and comedy: in the
former, affronts to honor end in bloodshed; in the latter, they produce
laughter. Only a genius like Mozart could mix these genres and produce

Millerís production has the virtue of simplicity ó taken to excess, in
that a unit set (in a highly unattractive color for the residence of a
wealthy man hoping to catch a noble son-in-law) does not really serve the
plotís situations well. Miller has chosen to go for knockabout comedy
(lustful lady jokes, burp jokes) at the expense of other considerations, and
far too much of the laughter was due to the excessive colloquialism of the
surtitles ó but the purpose is to entertain, and the time goes swiftly. (I
did enjoy the moment ó at the height of the plotís confusion, with all
the characters yelling at once ó when the English milord peeped up at the
titles to find out what on earth was going on.)

In brief: A wealthy old merchant, Girolamo, has two daughters; his
secretary, Paolino, hopes to arrange an aristocratic marriage for the elder,
snobby Elisetta, so that the old man will be pleased enough to approve
Paolinoís marriage to the younger, pretty Carolina ó which marriage has
already taken place, secretly. But when Lord Robinson arrives, he falls for
Carolina himself and refuses to take Elisetta, even offering to forgo a
dowry. Adding to the confusion, Girolamoís rich, widowed sister, Fidalma,
has a thing for Paolino. The confusion is somehow drawn out for two melodious
acts (you can see just where Desi and Lucy would put the commercials),
whereupon Lord R, checking the surtitles, declares he so loves Carolina that,
to ensure her happiness, he will marry her sister. As you can see: many
opportunities for duets and trios at cross-purposes are present. But Rossini
had not yet invented the grand buffo concertato, so Cimarosaís
scenes do not conclude with those satisfying explosions of mutual confusion
and recrimination that seem so typically buffo to us.

The experienced but little known cast of the BAM performances gave
pleasure as both singers and actors. Heidi Stoberís was the only name
familiar to me ó her sweet soprano (and face and figure) were all that a
Carolina requires, but her voice also has a velvet, caressing quality that
could take her places. Georgia Jarman sang the more bravura role of Elisetta,
whose jilted hopes produce flights of parody-heroic coloratura in the manner
of Donna Elvira. The voice is pretty, the flounces effective, but her
ornamentation was not as precise as Iíd have liked. Fredrika Brillembourg
sang the thankless part of Aunt Fidalma, but her attractive and easy mezzo
and stately figure suggest she would be impressive as Handelís Cornelia or
Mozartís Sesto.

The comedians ó whose lengthy resumes suggest long but insular careers
ó expertly inhabited the pretensions and asininities required of buffo
clowns. Coadís Girolamo, a father only a buffo heroine could love (and no
one could obey), bristled and strutted and held down the bass line. Jonathan
Best seemed ó appropriately for an English milord in an Italian opera ó
to have strayed out of his natural element, tossing bits of stage Brit slang
into the recitative and even the duets, and staring about the theater bemused
as if he couldnít imagine where he was. His Briticisms were well received,
as was the sheer fun he seemed to be having, whether he was flirting with the
right girl or the wrong. Chad A. Johnson, the Paolino, listed quite an array
of lead roles in his program bio, but his wispy tenor did not seem worthy of
any of them. Happily his role is the least important in the opera, and he may
have been suffering from the pollen-ridden atmosphere.

Paul Goodwin got a pick-up bunch of musicians from the Brooklyn
Philharmonic into unflaggingly lively shape for a pit band. The only
awkwardness came from the timpani, off pitch and far too assertive (had there
been no time to test balances in the tiny Harvey Theater?) during the
operaís delicious overture. This was most regrettable but, happily, the
drums are not heard again after the curtain rises: they proclaim a portentous
evening and then do not take part in it.

John Yohalem

image_description=Domenico Cimarosa
product_title=Domenico Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto
BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) Harvey Theater, performance of May 30.
product_by=Carolina: Heidi Stober, Elisetta: Georgia Jarman, Fidalma: Fredrika Brillembourg, Paolino: Chad A. Johnson, Il conte Robinson: Jonathan Best, Geronimo: Conal Coad. Members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic conducted by Paul Goodwin. Directed by Jonathan Miller.