By Christopher Hyde, Portland Press Herald
Forget Salieri. Mozart's chief rival in the field of opera was an Italian composer named Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801), who wrote more than 80 full-length operas and served for several years as Catherine the Great's maestro di capella. You can now see and hear his masterpiece, "The Secret Marriage," in Maine.
Coincidentally enough for those who have seen "Amadeus," after Cimarosa's own death in Venice, rumors circulated that he had been poisoned. either by Queen Caroline of Naples or his rival, Giovanni Paisiello, who had preceded Cimarosa at Catherine's court.
An autopsy provided no evidence of foul play, but one wonders how good autopsies were in those days. That he had been held in a dungeon for four months, sentenced to death for treason against the Bourbon monarchy during the Napoleonic occupation of Naples, didn't help his health either. (He had written a hymn to accompany the burning of the Bourbon flag.)
"The Secret Marriage" (1792) is being performed at several Maine – and one New Hampshire – locations in June and July by PORTopera's Emerging Artists Program.
The two-act opera, originally written in Italian, is being presented in an abbreviated version (about 90 minutes) sung in English. All is not lost, however, since the original libretto was based on a story by George Colman the Elder and David Garrick, so the performers are merely going back to the original English text.
"The Secret Marriage" is one of the few that can bear comparison to Mozart's comic operas. It was premiered in Vienna before Emperor Leopold II, who liked it so much that he ordered supper for the cast and then had the entire opera performed again.
The plot, set in Bologna, is the usual farrago of amorous nonsense. Paolino has secretly married Geronimo's daughter, Carolina. Carolina's aunt Fidalma is also in love with Paolino.
The improbably named English Count Robinson arrives. Although betrothed by Geronimo to Caroline's sister Elisetta, he also falls for Carolina. After a lot of intrigue, the marriage is revealed, and everyone pairs off happily.
Cimarosa has a great melodic gift and the best feeling for comedy since Rossini, so the plot works better than it sounds on paper.
The production, in costume with portable sets, is directed by Kathleen Scott, who also provides the piano accompaniment. The cast includes Jesslyn Thomas, a junior at the University of Southern Maine, as Carolina; Sarah Mawn, a graduate student at USM, as Elisetta; Alexandra Dietrich of Freeport, currently in her fifth year at USM, as Fidalma: Thomas Morris of Standish, a graduate of Ithaca College, as Paolino; Christian Schwebler of Kennebunk, a senior at Miami University, as Count Robinson; and Joshua Miller, a junior at USM, as Geronimo.
Opera buffs may recall Mawn, Dietrich and Morris from earlier productions, such as "Too Many Sopranos" by the Emerging Artists Program, directed by Ellen Chickering, who also directs the opera workshop at the USM School of Music.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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