Famously encored in its entirety by the Emperor of Austria, Domenico Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto dates from 1792 – the year of Rossini’s birth and a year after Mozart’s death. The prolific Neapolitan composer is a pivotal figure, but his operas are rarely seen today.
This tightly-wrought comedy of social and sexual manners, which draws on Colman and Garrick’s play The Clandestine Marriage, is performed in Donald Pippin’s witty, literate translation.
Sinead O’Neill retains a period setting in Rufus Martin’s dainty, but theatrically practical designs. While energy abounds, too much is expended on ‘comic opera business’ – both traditional and modern – that does little to illuminate the admittedly stock characters. Does ‘older woman’ Fidalma (Rachael Cox, a sophisticated singer and actress) really need to work herself into an auto-erotic lather during her Act I aria?
The dramatic focus sharpens in Act II, when things get a little more serious. In Carolina’s aria of unease, as throughout the show, Holly Brown brings real vocal and emotional substance, and Andy Powis (Carolina’s secret husband) is at his best in his dynamic aria of escape.
A gripping quintet at the opera’s crisis point unites Brown and Cox with Madeleine Allsop – pearly-toned as the minxish Elisetta – Dan D’Souza, whose burnished baritone adds allure to Count Robinson, and Daniel Rudge as Geronimo. If his character – a classic grumpy father – falls victim to Hampstead Garden Opera’s mission of promoting young singers, Rudge sings with style and firm articulation.
Both fizz and refinement characterise Chris Hopkins’ reading of the score, with some especially lovely playing from the wind instruments.