Domenico Cimarosa was one of the most successful composers of the end of the 18th century: his Il matrimonio segreto was a tremendous success in Vienna in 1792, replicated in the following decades in Naples. It is an opera buffa clearly influenced by Le nozze di Figaro, but Cimarosa and librettist Giovanni Bertati avoid any of the revolutionary innovations of Da Ponte/Mozart, producing a work where subdued half-tones are dominant, both from a poetic and a musical standpoint. (Perhaps a comparison with Da Ponte/Mozart is not fair, but it’s hard to avoid.)

Francesca Pia Vitale, Sung-Hwan Damien Park, Mara Gaudenzi and Greta Doveri
© Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

La Scala presents Il matrimonio segreto as part of its Accademia programme: the show relies on the students of the Accademia, not only for the singing cast, but also the orchestra, stage technicians, répétiteurs, production managers, marketing and communication team are all from the student ranks. A few veterans guide this army of talented young people. Notably, conductor Ottavio Dantone, director Irina Brook and baritone Pietro Spagnoli.

The action develops in a single day, inside the house of the rich bourgeois, Geronimo, who lives with his sister, the widow Fidalma, and two daughters, Elisetta and Carolina. Geronimo aspires to a noble marriage for his daughters, but Carolina is already secretly married to Paolino, Geronimo’s young secretary. Count Robinson, “man of the world” but completely empty-headed, proposes by letter to Elisetta, to Geronimo’s rejoicing. Robinson arrives, and immediately falls in love with Carolina instead. To further twist the plot, Aunt Fidalma aspires to Paolino’s affections. The two secret spouses plan to elope and run away from this madness; when they are discovered, after some huffing and puffing, Geronimo forgives them in the customary happy ending.

The plot clearly does not aspire to depth or introspection. Brook shifts the action to our times, turning Geronimo into some sort of gangster, and adding gag after gag, perhaps too many, some funnier than others, for an exuberant interpretation. The walls of the house (sets by Patrick Kinmonth) are represented by gigantic old books, while sea references – corals, fish, shells –  are ubiquitous, the reason remaining a mystery. It was all very colourful and sparkling, and it sort of managed to make the plot more lively and somewhat relatable, as some kind of crazy soap-opera.

Francesca Pia Vitale, Pietro Spagnoli and Mara Gaudenzi
© Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

As Geronimo, Spagnoli led the cast with his solid buffo baritone. He was funny and engaging, his voice smooth – if perhaps not all-powerful – with perfect style. Carolina was Greta Doveri, who impressed with beautiful, powerful high notes; her soprano was silvery and extremely agile, but the three-dimensionality of her voice could presage a drammatico d’agilità. (Abigaille, here she comes!) Francesca Pia Vitale’s brilliant soprano didn’t have as much projection and presence, but her Elisetta dazzled with perfect coloratura in her big aria. Mara Gaudenzi, as Fidalma, was perhaps the most beautiful young voice of the evening; her mezzo bronzed and supple, very uniform over the range, with great projection.

Paolino is the typical light tenor, amoroso character, and Paolo Antonio Nevi showed the right timbre and affect for this role. After a very good first act, he hit some minor snags in “Pria che sorga” in the second act: mostly around the passaggio, and some high notes were not perfectly in focus. My feeling was that nerves played a part. Count Robinson was Sung-Hwan Damien Park; his baritone was smooth and pleasant, but not strong enough in the lower register (yet?). The only non-Italian in the cast, he did very well with the pronunciation: the sillabati came out clear and precise. 

Greta Doveri, Mara Gaudenzi and Francesca Pia Vitale
© Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

All the singers showed great commitment to the director’s vision and acted with great spirit and humour. Doveri and Nevi, as the secretly married couple, were running around frolicking in every corner, his glasses and pants continuously coming on and off; Vitale was a perfect “Cinderella’s stepsister”, in hysterical fits when the Count rejected her and scolding Carolina with hoity-toity manners (there is an ensemble closely resembling “Via, resti servita”, and the three women were splendid in it). Gaudenzi was brilliant as the mature widow looking for a husband, showing up in leather high-boots and overly sexual behaviour (a bit too much, but it was clearly a directorial choice). Park was perhaps the best actor of the lot: bold, unafraid of making a fool of himself with outrageous outfits and behaviour, he was sincerely funny.

Dantone led the Orchestra dell’Accademia in brilliant, spirited reading of the score. I appreciated the light touch and delicacy of the interpretation (which I found it somewhat unusual), and also the precision of the brass. Dantone supported the singers throughout, leading the ensemble in a successful performance, gratified by the usual lukewarm cheers of La Scala’s audience.