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Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, July 2009

The singing in general is good. Antonella Bandelli has an exceptionally well-focused tone, with a narrow, quick vibrato. She displays excellent musical sense and breadth of line in “Come tacerlo poi,” the accompanied recitative that hints best at the darker emotions beneath the opera’s elegant surface. Her equal is Valeria Baiano, who doesn’t project quite as well, but delivers an effortless flurry of coloratura in her virtuosic aria, “Se son vendicata.” Roberto Coviello is a bit too dry and baritonal for my liking in the role of the Count, but he delivers the requisite smooth gentility that the role demands. Carmen Gonzalez is the only weak link, with a wide flap in her voice that makes for difficult listening. Paolo Barbacini has trouble with the relatively low top notes in his part, but offers an attractively free, lyrical sound, with good breath support. Unfortunately, his acting is wooden, with gestures and movements frequently appearing a shade too early or too late. By way of contrast, his opposite number is Enrico Fissore, one of those sturdy basses with exceptional acting skills that could hold together a flimsy work with ease, and a stronger one with panache. There are a few too many close-ups that look odd, considering the exaggerated facial expressions used to reach the audience, but he moves with authority and a sense of being completely in character.

The camerawork is otherwise good. This is one of the very few live filmed operatic productions I’ve seen that focuses on the strings or horns during the overture when they are featured—in other words, carefully prepared camerawork based on performance and score. Most stage shots are medium or distant, but even then, the distant shots are mobile enough to concentrate on the singers. My only regret is the level of blur associated especially with facial detail at medium range, as mentioned above.

Director Filippo Crivelli moves his people about with ease, adding stage business that for the most part flows seamlessly into the action. I note two exceptions. The first is the group of four non-singing servants, whose goofy antics and coarse acting reminded me, an ordinarily humane man, of the value of the bastinado. The second was the act II dinner scene for Geronimo, Elisetta, Fidalma, and the Count, in which Carolina pleads for time to get out of being sent to a convent, only to be ignored, ridiculed, or harshly reprimanded. Why is the table set only for four? Why are the first three so suddenly incapable of displaying even the slightest signs of remorse, even as they insist upon Carolina’s departure? Why is the Count, who admires and is infatuated with Carolina, completely stone-faced throughout? As staged, this scene is more appropriate to Rossini’s La cenerentola—and we hate Cinderella’s family in it for good reason, while these people should command our sympathies.

As for the stage design, it is a stylized combination of aqua and turquoise walls with numerous white door flats, their elaborate carvings drawn with charcoal. The props are few, while the costumes are appropriate for period, place, and class. There’s no digital sound, which is hardly surprising, given the performance’s age, but the treble is a bit lacking at the high end. Picture format employs a 4:3 ratio. Subtitles are only available in English, and there were numerous occasions when they dropped out completely for as much as 30 seconds at a time—and not just in arias where repetition was a factor. No synopsis or essay is included, just a list of cuts and timings.

Despite its packaging and audiovisual issues, I liked this version of Il matrimonio segreto. It is sprightly, well sung, and decently acted, with several standout performances. Francis Travis has the style of the work perfectly in hand, and the Swiss Italian Orchestra performs admirably. Don’t let the lack of stars fool you. There’s much to enjoy here.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, February 2008

Cimarosa's most popular and enduring opera buffa was written in Vienna in 1792, following his 14 year sojourn in St. Petersburg, where he served as Catherine the Great's music master. There he wrote an enormous number of compositions, most of which are unfortunately lost. This production of 'The Secret Marriage" is simply delightful in every aspect: The singer-actors are excellent, the costumes gorgeous, and stage settings rich and tasteful. The nearly three hours (a great value on one disc!) of this technically superb performance go by all too quickly!

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