About this Recording
8.572734 - CIMAROSA, D.: Overtures, Vol. 3 (Sinfonia Finlandia Jyvaskyla, Gallois)
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Domenico Cimarosa (1749–1801)
Overtures • 3

 

Domenico Cimarosa was the most famous and popular Italian composer of the second half of the eighteenth century. In the course of a brilliantly successful career he composed more than 65 operas as well as a significant body of instrumental music and works for the church. His operas were performed all over Europe both in Italian and in translation. A number of Cimarosa’s operas continued to enjoy occasional stagings during the nineteenth century and his most famous work, Il matrimonio segreto (The Clandestine Marriage), is one of only a handful of operas of the period never to have left the repertory. The others are by Mozart.

Born in 1749 at Aversa, Cimarosa moved with his family to Naples, shortly after his own birth and shortly before the death of his father, a stonemason. His musical gifts, however, enabled him to study at the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto and to embark on a career as a composer of operas in Naples. He subsequently entered the service of Catherine the Great in St Petersburg, then moving to the imperial service in Vienna and, in 1793, to Naples once more, a city from which he was expelled in 1799 when the monarchy was restored after a brief republican interlude. He spent his final years in Venice, where he died in 1801.

Cimarosa’s operas are remarkable for their delineation of character, sureness of dramatic touch, melodic invention and assured handling of the orchestra. The overtures are themselves of particular interest. Some conform to the three-movement pattern of earlier Neapolitan composers, while others are cast in a single movement similar to the sonata-form structures of the contemporary symphony. Cimarosa’s orchestration is deft and the equal of any symphonist of the period. He retains a fondness for three-part string textures throughout his career, typically with the first violin and viola presenting the melodic material while the second violin is assigned an accompanying figure. For all the similarities, however, the overtures are not symphonies and serve, rather, as scene setters for the drama to follow, without thematic links to the opera itself and to an extent, therefore, interchangeable.

Among the overtures featured on this recording are I due baroni di Roccazzura, one of Cimarosa’s most popular operas, and I nemici generosi, an opera that was admired greatly by Stendahl.

Le astuzie femminili

Just as Beethoven wrote four overtures for his only opera, so Domenico Cimarosa wrote two completely different overtures for his comic opera Le astuzie femminili (The Cunning Women). The two-act commedia per musica was commissioned by Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples and was given its prima there on 26 August 1794 (with Overture 1). The opera was so well received that within a decade it had been staged in Florence, Barcelona, Lisbon, Paris, London and Milan. In Naples it was presented at the Court Theatre in the Royal Palace as “the best comic work of Domenico Cimarosa”.

There is no evidence to indicate the reason why Cimarosa wrote a completely different overture for the opera when it was staged in Belgium nor is the date of this production known with any certainty. A libretto preserved in the Brussels collection, however, dated 1795, suggests that the production may have taken place a year after the work’s prima in Naples. Two copies of the ‘second’ overture to Le astuzie femminili are to be found in Brussels; one in the library of the Conservatoire Royal de Musique (MS 2073. K. obl.), the other in the Bibliothèque Royale Albert 1er (MS F 2584 11 4012, 1-2). Neither is in Cimarosa’s hand but the musical texts are identical.

Since Naxos is issuing the complete overtures of Cimarosa, both overtures are presented here: Overture No 1 (that used in Naples at the opera’s prima), and Overture No 2 (probably used in Brussels and quite possibly in a number of other locations). Overture No 1 in D is a one-movement overture which shares some 76 bars with Cimarosa’s overture to La vergine del sole. Overture No 2 in B flat—also composed as a single movement—is completely new.

The music of this opera so fascinated Ottorino Respighi that he re-orchestrated the opera for a performance in 1920. Respighi’s revision also transformed the two-act structure of Cimarosa’s original into two acts and four parts. In 1924 Respighi was involved in a further production based on Le astuzie femminili with the choreographer Leonide Massine. This ballet was based on the finale of his 1920 revision of the opera; Diaghilev choreographed the ballet in the earlier production.

Artemisia

Cimarosa’s incomplete opera, Artemisia, was given its first performance at Teatro La Fenice on 17 January 1801, a bare seven days after his death. On the occasion the late composer received a most flattering posthumous compliment when the audience requested that the curtain be lowered at the point at which he wrote his last note.

The historical character of Artemisia, the Greek Queen of Halicarnassus in the first half of the fifth century BC, must have fascinated Cimarosa for he based two different operas on her life. In 1797, when the royal court in Naples commissioned him to write an opera seria to celebrate the wedding of Prince Francesco Borbone of Naples and Maria Clementina, Archduchess of Austria, the composer turned to Marcello Marchesini for a libretto based on the life of Artemisia. The resulting Artemisia, regina di Caria (Artemisa, Queen of Caria) was given its prima at Teatro San Carlo in June that year. When Teatro la Fenice in Venice commissioned Cimarosa in 1800 to compose an opera seria, he turned to the same subject, this time asking Count Giovanni Battista Colloredo to write the libretto. Unfortunately Cimarosa died in January 1801 before the second opera, titled simply Artemisia, could be completed.

Since Cimarosa always referred to the first of these operas as Artemisia, it is confusing today to know which opera is being referred to when a text refers to Artemisia. In a copy of a letter dated 11 November 1798 which is preserved in the Museo Teatrale della Scala, Milan, however, the writer (who is purported to be Cimarosa) makes a clear reference to Artemisia, regina di Caria:

“I am responding to your dear letter of the 7th in which you ask me which of the compositions that have sprung from my simple hand I might consider to be the best. I will confess to you that you are posing a very delicate question because as a composer I am not able to praise my works truthfully without exposing traces of vanity or presumption. But understand in absolute secrecy that even though my opera Il matrimonio segreto receives the highest praise, it is, in my opinion, a different work of mine that I prefer and think quite good: Artemisia.”

Il mercato di Malmantile

The year 1784 was a busy one for Cimarosa with commissions for opere buffe arriving from Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Teatro della Pergola in Florence, Teatro Regio in Turin, Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples and a request for an opera seria for the ‘opening of the (Eretenio) theatre of Vicenza 1784’ on 10 July. While the composer responded with five different operas based on five different stories and librettos, he made one overture serve three operas. The sinfonie are exactly the same for Il mercato di malmantile, L’apparenza inganna ossia La villeggiatura and L’Olimpiade. And to confuse matters further, a number of publications list Il mercato di Malmantile (The Market of Malmantile) under the title La vanità deluse (Illusive Vanity) for the reason that the opera is better known in our own time under this name.

Although both Fétis (‘Domenico Cimarosa’ in Biographie universelle des musiciens, 1866) and Maria Storni Trevisian (Nel primo centenario di Domenico Cimarosa, 1900) give the opera’s first performance as having taken place in 1779, the Florentine libretto clearly states ‘Regio Teatro di via della Pergola nella primavera del 1784’. Information on subsequent performances of the work are unsubstantiated, but it is likely that it was performed in Paris in 1805.

Cajo Mario

Cimarosa’s first opera seria, his eighteenth work for the stage, Cajo Mario (Gaius Marius), was commissioned for Rome’s Teatro delle Dame. Designated by the composer as a dramma per musica, it was first presented in January 1780 with an all-male cast as required by Papal edict. For this work Cimarosa turned to a libretto by Gaetano Roccaforte based on the story from Plutarch’s Lives of the Roman General and Consul, Gaius Marius (157–86 BC), a politician who was one of the most powerful figures in the turbulent period of the late Republic. Roccaforte’s libretto had already been set several times, the best known of which was by Niccolò Jommelli written over thirty years before Cimarosa’s opera.

Cajo Mario was moderately successful with productions in Mantua the following spring and during Carnival in Genoa in 1782. The opera was also performed at the Teatro alla Pergola, Florence, during the winter season of 1784 and a copy of the score is preserved in the library of the Florence Conservatory (Fondo Pitti, FPT 121). Cajo Mario was also staged in Madrid (1787) and Modena (1794). The holograph score does not survive but eighteenth-century MS copies are to be found today in libraries in Milan, Rome (the Rome copy is marked “Roma 1780”) and St Petersburg where the work may have been performed during Cimarosa’s tenure as Maestro di musica to Catherine the Great.

I due baroni di Roccazzura

I due baroni di Roccazzura, an intermezzo in musica with a libretto by Giuseppe Palomba, was given its prima at Teatro Valle in Rome during the Carnival season of 1783. It became one of Cimarosa’s most popular operas with performances during the 1786 season at La Scala in Milan followed by productions in Madrid (1789), Barcelona (1789), Vienna (1789), for which Mozart composed the aria ‘Alma grande e nobile’, in St Petersburg (1791), Lisbon (1791), Cadiz (1792), Warsaw (1792), Zara (1792), Alexandria (1792) and Corfu (1792). It returned to Naples with a slightly altered text in 1793, was given in Modena under the title La sposa in contrasto (1802), and then in Paris (1802), London (1803) and in Paris again, this time at the Comédie Italienne as Il Barone deluso (1805). A second MS overture to the opera is preserved in the library of the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Brussels (MS X 8004). Cast in a single movement, it is an abridged version of the overture to Giannina e Bernadone. The original overture, presented here, bears some resemblance to the Overture to L’eroe cinese composed the previous year, which itself, is based on Cimarosa’s overture to Il convito.

Le stravaganze d’amore

Le stravaganze d’amore (The Eccentricities of Love), a commedia per musica in three acts, was the first opera of the 1778 season at Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples. The libretto, by Pasquale Mililotti, one of Cimarosa’s favourite poets, tells a typical opera buffa story of several young lovers whose paths cross and who, through masquerades and various deceptions, eventually marry the partners of their original choice. While there are no performances of the opera on record either in Italy or elsewhere except for its prima in Naples, the existence of eighteenth-century MS copies of the full score suggests that the work was more widely performed. A copy of the work preserved in the library of the Conservatorio “Luigi Cherubini” in Florence (Fondo Pitti FPT66) includes another version of the overture but this is probably not by Cimarosa.

I nemici generosi

I nemici generosi (The Generous Enemies), a farsa per musica in two acts, was quite widely performed after its prima in Rome at Teatro Valle during the Carnival season of 1796. It was produced in Vienna on 2 July 1796; on 18 January 1797 in Dresden (as Die grossmüthiger Feinde); at Regio Teatro della Pergola in Florence in the spring of 1797 (with an enlarged cast) at Teatro Nuovo in Naples for Carnival 1797; in Barcelona on 9 December 1797; at Teatro San Moisé in Venice as Il duello per complimento (The Polite Duel), a one-act farce repeated at Teatro Giuliniari in Venice in 1801; in St Petersburg in 1798; in Paris at the Théâtre Italien in 1801; at Teatro Carcano in Milan, 1805; and during the autumn of 1805 in Cagliari, Sardinia. Stendahl said of the opera: “Rossini never achieved anything quite like the duel scene from Cimarosa’s I nemici generosi, which was so exquisitely performed in Paris, fifteen or so years ago…”

The opera’s overture also proved very popular. An early British arrangement for fortepiano survives in MS and a keyboard arrangement by A.E. Trial was published in Paris by Imbault at the close of the eighteenth century.

L’eroe cinese

L’eroe cinese (The Chinese Hero), described variously as a dramma serio per musica in due atti (the eighteenth-century MS copy in the library of the Conservatory in Milan) or as an opera teatrale in 3 atti (on the composer’s holograph score in the library of the Conservatorio di musica San Pietro a Majella in Naples), was written “for the birthday festival of Santa Maria la Regina” and first performed at Teatro San Carlo in Naples on 13 August 1782. Records of further performances are scarce although it is clear from surviving MS copies that the opera was produced in the eighteenth century in both Milan and Florence.

As is the case with Cimarosa’s L’Olimipade, L’eroe cinese is based on a heavily revised libretto of Pietro Metastasio. The unknown author of Cimarosa’s libretto made substantial alterations to the structure of the story, reducing the three acts of Metastasio’s libretto to two. The plot of the opera is a complicated one. Following an uprising by the people of Singana, China, the Emperor was exiled and his family killed. To save the infant son of the Emperor, however, Leango, the Chinese Regent, sacrificed his own baby who was to have been murdered in place of the Emperor’s son. The action of the opera takes place eighteen years later and deals with heroic battles and the revelation of unknown nobility.

The overture is written in three movements, the first two of which are linked. Rather unusually, the instrumentation is enlarged in the central section by the addition of a pair of clarinets. As the music modulates into B flat towards the end of the first movement, Cimarosa instructs the horns to change to an E flat crook to ensure that he can maintain its varied orchestral palette. Some of the material from this overture was reused the following year in the overture to I due baroni di Roccazzura.

Nick Rossi & Allan Badley


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