Cimarosa's Covert Couple: 'Il Matrimonio Segreto'

WOO-1324-matrimonio-350There are certain places that have long been associated with specific types of music. The city of Vienna, for example, is known as the cradle of the waltz. Yet for centuries, Vienna has also been famous for another sort of music altogether: opera.

It's hard to pinpoint a specific heyday of opera in Vienna. The city began attracting opera companies and composers as early as the 1600s. But Vienna's opera scene may have reached its high-water mark beginning with the 10-year reign of the Hapsburg emperor Joseph II, from 1780 to 1790.

If you know the movie Amadeus, you've seen a depiction of that era. It was a time when Vienna's musical stars included Mozart, who may have been Europe's finest opera composer, and Antonio Salieri, who was likely its most famous. Salieri was also a favorite of the emperor, serving as Hofkapellmeister -- or chief musician -- at Joseph's court, and that alone would have qualified him as Vienna's most successful opera composer.

Yet before long, another musician arrived on the scene, and quickly stole the operatic show from both Salieri and Mozart. Joseph II died in 1790, to be succeeded by his brother, Leopold II -- and Leopold had a favorite composer of his own: Domenico Cimarosa.

Cimarosa already had strong ties to the Viennese imperial court, and when he arrived in the city in 1791 he quickly took a leading role. When Joseph II died, Salieri gave up his day to day duties in the opera house, and turned his attention to other forms of music. To help take up the slack, Cimarosa was appointed Kapellmeister, and Leopold quickly commissioned him to write a new opera for the court theater.

The piece he came up with was the comedy Il Matrimonio Segreto -- The Secret Marriage. The opera's story came from an English play by George Coleman and David Garrick, called The Clandestine Marriage, which premiered in 1766 at London's Drury Lane Theater, not far from today's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

The opera's libretto was written by Giovanni Bertati, whose rivalry with Mozart's famous librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte caused a bit of backbiting. Da Ponte praised Cimarosa's music for the opera, while declaring that opera's "words fell very far below expectations, and everyone is dissatisfied." But while Bertati's work on the whole may not have risen to the standards of Da Ponte's best efforts, The Secret Marriage was an undisputed hit, leaving the emperor satisfied enough that he ordered an immediate encore of the entire opera, after a quick break for dinner.

For the time being, Cimarosa rose to the top of the class in the unforgiving world of Viennese opera. Il Matrimonio Segreto was premiered at Vienna's Burgtheater in 1792. By 1800 the city had seen more than 70 performances of the score. Within two years of its premiere the opera had also been performed in cities all across Europe, including Leipzig, Paris, Florence and Lisbon, and by the early 19th century it had been translated into nearly a dozen languages.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Cimarosa's The Secret Marriage in a production from the Royal Theatre in Turin, Italy. Soprano Barbara Bargnesi and tenor Emanuele D'Aguanno star as the covert couple, in a production led by conductor Francesco Pasqualetti.