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8.573568 - CIMAROSA, D.: Overtures, Vol. 5 (Czech Chamber Philharmonic, Pardubice, Patrick Gallois)
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Domenico Cimarosa (1749–1801)
Overtures • 5


Domenico Cimarosa was born in Aversa on 17th December 1749. He was one of the last great exponents of the so-called Neapolitan School, and one of the best-known and mostperformed composers before the arrival of Rossini on Europe’s operatic scene. Cimarosa’s works (autograph manuscripts of 65 operas and a number of sacred works survive) were remarkably successful and were staged and restaged in opera houses across Europe. Having first made his name in all the leading theatres of the Kingdom of Naples, he soon saw his fame spread to central and northern Italy (Venice, in particular). Success at home led to his appointment by Catherine II as maestro di cappella and music master at the Russian court in St Petersburg, posts which he held between 1787 and 1791, and then to commissions from Leopold II to write at least three operas (including perhaps his best-known work, Il matrimonio segreto) for the Vienna Burgtheater. Contrary to what some of his biographies say, Cimarosa was not officially appointed Kapellmeister in Vienna, but worked for the emperor on what we today would call a freelance basis, earning the then enormous figure of 12,000 florins a year.

Atene edificata

Cimarosa wrote the cantata Atene edificata (The Founding of Athens) during the brief period in which he was employed at the court of Catherine the Great. The full-autograph score is now housed in the library of the San Pietro a Majello Conservatory in Naples but, because it has been impossible to trace a copy of the printed libretto, most of what we know about the work’s first performance has been gleaned from the brief notes left by Cimarosa on the title page of the score. The cantata was almost certainly given its première on 29th June 1788 (10th July in the Gregorian calendar).

Dramatic composition for Cardinal de Bernis

Little is known about the genesis and reception of the Cantata a tre voci di Dom.co Cimarosa fatta / per l’Eminentissimo Cardinale De Bernis in occasione della Nascita del Delfino (Three-part Cantata by Domenico Cimarosa written / for His Eminence Cardinal de Bernis on the occasion of the Birth of the Dauphin). The text was commissioned by François-Joachim de Pierre, Cardinal de Bernis, an adviser to both Louis XV and Louis XVI, from the poet, writer, dramatist and translator Vincenzo Monti—a leading exponent of the Italian neo-Classical style—to mark the birth of the Dauphin (the firstborn son of Louis XVI). The work was probably given in a private performance at the Cardinal’s residence.

La bella Greca (I matrimoni impensati)

La bella Greca (The Beautiful Greek Girl) is an intermezzo in musica (we know from the libretto printed for its première that it was also given the alternative title I matrimoni impensati—The Unforeseen Weddings) composed for the 1784 Carnival season at the Teatro Valle in Rome. Unfortunately the libretto does not include the name of the librettist (this was fairly common practice for the Teatro Valle in the latter part of the eighteenth century); it can, however, be attributed to Giuseppe Petrosellini, a poet active at the Teatro Valle during this period and with whom Cimarosa worked on most of his Roman productions. The partial-autograph score is housed at the San Pietro a Majella Conservatory in Naples; its nonautograph title-page is headed La bella Greca, but the text set by Cimarosa is known to be identical to the libretto of I matrimoni impensati, with the exception of two variations in scenes IX and X of the first act.

La felicità inaspettata

Cimarosa wrote the “pastoral cantata” La felicita inaspettata (Unexpected Happiness) in St Petersburg in 1788. In their book Domenico Cimarosa. His Life and His Operas, Nick Rossi and Talmage Fauntleroy make the somewhat surprising statement that no original sources of La felicita inaspettata survive, whereas in fact the full-autograph score is, again, housed in the library of the San Pietro a Majella Conservatory. The libretto, meanwhile, which was written by the Russian court’s official poet Ferdinando Moretti, was published as part of a collection of the latter’s theatrical works in 1794. As we know from the title-page of the score, the work was “performed for the first time / at the Hermitage Theatre on 24th February 1788”.

La villana riconosciuta

The comic opera La villana riconosciuta (The Country Girl Revealed), setting a libretto by Giuseppe Palomba, was written in response to a commission from the Neapolitan Teatro del Fondo. Unusually for a Cimarosa production, we know the exact date of the first performance thanks to a mention in the Gazzetta universale. A brief report by an anonymous journalist, dated [Monday] 30th June 1783, tells us that “His Majesty on the 28th … attended a performance of a comic opera entitled La villana riconosciuta. This took place at the Teatro del Fondo, open for the first time this year, and Signor Cimarosa’s music was warmly applauded by the audience.” After its Neapolitan premiere, this work went on to be produced in many opera houses, both in Italy and further afield (London, Madrid, Berlin, Florence, Rome, Bologna, Modena), often under a different title.

I due supposti conti (Lo sposo senza moglie)

A dramma giocoso per musica in two acts to a libretto by Angelo Anelli, I due supposti conti (Lo sposo senza moglie)—The Two Would-be Counts, or The Groom without a Wife—was first staged at La Scala, Milan, on 10th October 1784. A short article appearing in the Gazzetta universale on [Wednesday] 13th October reports that, in what was a very rare occurrence for a work by Cimarosa, the opera was not a success. The unnamed writer seems to attribute this to a last-minute change of cast, but a close analysis of the partial-autograph score (again, part of the library holdings of the San Pietro a Majella Conservatory) also shows that Cimarosa must have compiled the manuscript in something of a hurry.

Le trame deluse

The comic opera Le trame deluse (The Foiled Schemes) was staged as the “second opera” at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples in 1786. It was an instant hit with audiences and, to judge from the incalculable number of new productions at opera houses in Italy and abroad, has to be seen as one of the most successful of Cimarosa’s career. It was staged in Vienna, Naples (1788, Teatro dei Fiorentini, in a two-act version adapted by Giuseppe Benevento), Dresden, Budapest, London, Bologna (with the alternative title Li raggiri scoperti—The Tricks Discovered), Madrid, Florence and Milan (at the Teatro della Canobbiana in 1811, and then at La Scala in 1818).

Il marito disperato

A dramma giocoso, Il marito disperato (The Desperate Husband) sets a libretto by Giovan Battista Lorenzi, and was written by Cimarosa for the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples, where it received its first performance in 1785. The two-volume partial-autograph score of Il marito disperato is housed at the San Pietro a Majella Conservatory, whose library also holds the manuscript, non-autograph score of a later version staged for the first time at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples in 1805 under the title L’amante disperato (The Desperate Lover).


L’Olimpiade (The Olympiad), a dramma per musica, was composed for the inauguration of Vicenza’s Teatro Eretenio in 1784. The libretto set by Cimarosa was the latest of many adaptations of a text originally written by Pietro Metastasio. Antonio Caldara had been the first to set this to music, and Metastasio’s drama went on to inspire a further sixty composers. The Eretenio’s impresarios had initially commissioned Giovanbattista Borghi, a composer considerably less well-known than Cimarosa, to compose their opera. For reasons that remain far from clear, having written various sections of the opera, he abandoned the task, and Cimarosa was called in at the eleventh hour—at the time he was in Florence working on a production of La vanita delusa, a dramma giocoso which shares an overture with L’Olimpiade.

La ballerina amante

The three-act dramma giocoso per musica, La ballerina amante, (The Ballerina In Love) was the result of another commission from the Teatro dei Fiorentini. Unfortunately, no libretto printed for the first performance of La ballerina amante survives to provide any definitive information as to its author. It is thought, however, to be another text by Giuseppe Palomba, one of Cimarosa’s regular collaborators, who was active at the Fiorentini theatre at the time. La ballerina was produced many times outside the Kingdom of Naples, with stagings in Florence, Trieste, Malta, Corfu, Prague, Lisbon and St Petersburg.

Il fanatico burlato

Cimarosa composed his comic opera (commedia per musica) Il fanatico burlato (The Fanatic Duped) to a libretto by Saverio Zini, for the Teatro del Fondo in Naples where it was performed, as we know from the first-night libretto, as the “first opera” of 1787. It was in fact the last work Cimarosa wrote in Italy before taking up his posts at the Russian court: according to another anonymous report in the Gazzetta universale, as published on 10th July 1787, the composer had “set off for St Petersburg … summoned by the [Russian] Queen to set various works to music”. Il fanatico burlato went on to be staged in Milan, Florence, Vienna, Barcelona, Paris, Corfu, Lisbon, Mannheim and Weimar.

Simone Perugini
English translation by Susannah Howe

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