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8.225181 - CIMAROSA: Overtures
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Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801)

Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801)

Overtures, Vol. 1

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, 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 S. Maria di Loreto and to embark on a career as a composer of opera 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. The present overtures include that written for his very first work, Le stravaganze del conte, and that for his most famous opera, Il matrimonio segreto.

Voldomiro was commissioned by the Teatro Regio in Turin for the carnival season of 1787, the only recorded performance. Copies of the score and of the libretto survive, however, in Lisbon and in Liège, respectively, suggesting wider contemporary interest. In Turin the king, who had insisted on restricting the length of operas and arias, was persuaded to allow Cimarosa five minutes more for one of the arias in Voldomiro, although the composer’s reward for a successful performance was less generous.

Cimarosa created his two-act opera buffa, Il credulo (The Gullible One), for the Carnival season of 1786 at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples, and wrote La baronessa Stramba to go with it as the third act of the evening. The work is probably a revision of Cimarosa’s earlier I matrimoni in ballo (The Weddings in Dance).

Cimarosa received his first commission to compose an opera from the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples for the Carnival season of 1772. With a libretto by the well-established Neapolitan poet Pasquale Mililotti, Le stravaganze del conte (The Eccentricities of the Count) opened on 6th January 1772. It is possible that some of the opera was composed while he was still a student. Since the only extant manuscript of Le stravaganze del conte is the holograph score it can be assumed that this opera was never restaged.

Not only is Il matrimonio segreto (The Secret Marriage) the best-known and most popular of all Cimarosa’s theatrical creations, it is perhaps the most popular opera buffa of all time. First staged in Vienna exactly two months after Mozart’s death, it enjoyed a greater success at the time than any of Mozart’s operas and continued in operatic repertory through the following century. The opera quickly achieved international fame outside Vienna, soon staged in Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, Paris, Milan, Florence, Naples, Turin, Madrid and Lisbon. By the mid-nineteenth century it had been performed in German, French, Spanish, Danish, Swedish, Polish, Dutch, Russian, English and Czech; the opera reached Calcutta in 1870. From the many contemporary manuscript copies of the score, two well-known versions of the opera’s Overture emerge, differing in length. The present version, recorded here for the first time, is based on Cimarosa’s score for Vienna and is substantially different, particularly in the inclusion of a fine oboe melody as a second theme, omitted in other versions.

Cimarosa’s commedia per musica, L’infedeltà fedele (Faithful Infidelity), his fifteenth opera, is unique in its early mixture of elements of opera buffa with those of opera seria. The work was intended for a new theatre in Naples, established by the king to provide opera buffa, otherwise a comic form popular with ordinary citizens, as an entertainment also for the nobility. On 20th July 1779 the king’s Teatro del Fondo opened with the work, described by the court librettist, Gianbattista Lorenzi, as a middle-of-the-road kind of entertainment, with its opera seria setting in classical Greece and the story itself full of the "buffooneries which are so fashionable" in opera buffa. The only known performance after this was in Dresden at the court theatre on 5th October 1782, under the title Treu in der Untreue.

Il ritorno di Don Calendrino (The Return of Don Calendrino), an intermezzo in two acts, was first staged during the Carnival season of 1778 at the Teatro Valle in Rome. Well received by the public, further performances of it were mounted in Florence, Livorno, and Rome, with stagings in Prague, Barcelona and Vienna. The overture borrows from the recently composed L’Armida imaginara, to which Cimarosa added two completely new movements, a central Andantino and a closing movement marked Allegro con spirito.

The comic opera Il Falegname (The Carpenter) was written as the second opera for the 1780 season at Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples, where it achieved great success, to be staged many times in the next few years elsewhere in Italy, and in 1783 at the Burgtheater in Vienna. Haydn produced the opera at Eszterháza for the season 1783-84. Foreign language productions followed, including one in Russian in Moscow in 1783, and one in Spanish in Madrid ten years later.

Cleopatra, a two-act dramma serio, was written for Catherine the Great and probably intended to mark the anniversary of her coronation, a few days before its first performance on 27th September 1789 at the Kamennyi Theatre. The opera enjoyed a measure of success and was given several performances in St Petersburg, where it was later restaged. Cimarosa used the overture again for early performances of Penelope written five years later for the Teatro del Fondo in Naples to open the Carnival season of 1794-95. The Penelope version of the overture differs in a number of minor details.

Il convito (The Banquet) was Cimarosa’s 28th opera, written for the Teatro San Samuele in Venice for the Carnival season of 1782. With a successful performance in Venice, after which the composer was carried by torchlight back to his hotel, the opera was produced the following season in Prague, Trieste, Dresden (as Das Gastmahl), Turin (as Il convito di pietra) and Nice, and further stagings followed throughout Europe. There are two different overtures to Il convito. The three-movement work recorded here is from the composer’s holograph score in the Conservatorio di musica S Pietro a Majella library in Naples. The second overture, in one movement, preserved in manuscript in the British Library, was apparently prepared for a performance of the opera before the court of Naples. Scored for pairs of oboes and horns, timpani and strings (with divided violas and separate violoncello and contra basso lines), it is identical to the fifth overture of the five written for L’impresario in angustie.

La vergine del sole (The Sun Virgin) is a dramma serio, written for the Russian Court, where it was first staged in 1788. Further performances followed, in Russia and elsewhere. Because of the opera’s dramatic story, set in Peru, Cimarosa made full use of the St Petersburg orchestra, scoring the overture for pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons and horns in addition to timpani and strings, and implying, with loud bursts of strings and timpani, the forthcoming volcanic eruption and earthquake. His unusual use of the timpani also possibly suggests native Peruvian sacrificial drums.

Cimarosa was commissioned to write an opera buffa for the Carnival season of 1786 by the Teatro Nuovo in Naples. With a libretto by Giuseppe Diodati, with whom he had worked on his Il capriccio drammatico of 1781, the two-act comedy, Il credulo (The Gullible One) tells of the attempts of a man to marry off his daughter to a gullible gentleman from Naples, hampered by a jealous lover who spreads the rumour that the young lady in question has gone mad. Scheduled as the third opera of the 1786 Carnival season, together with Cimarosa’s one-act comedy L’impresario in angustie (The Impresario in Distress), it was well received and rescheduled as the fourth opera of the same season, coupled with La baronessa Stramba.

The one-act farsetta per musica, L’impresario in angustie (The Impresario in Distress), proved to be one of Cimarosa’s most successful works. Within a year of its staging in 1786 at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples, it played in Rome and was soon heard in Paris and Barcelona, and at Eszterháza. Further performances followed elsewhere, with versions in various other languages. Goethe heard the work in Rome, where, with a papal ban on the stage appearance of women, it was performed by an all-male cast. Impressed by the work, he introduced it to the court theatre in Weimar in 1791, in his own German version and with additional songs. When he revived it a year later, he interpolated selections from Mozart’s Schauspieldirektor. There are at least five different overtures for L’impresario in angustie, each resembling overtures for other operas, oratorios and cantatas. The best known version, offered here, is based on an eighteenth-century manuscript preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, the source of the Paris printed edition of 1802.

Nick Rossi and Allan Badley


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