Il Matrimonio Segreto by Domenico Cimarosa
Genesis of the libretto by Giovanni Bertati
Domenico Cimarosa‘s most successful opera, The Secret Marriage, was composed on a libretto written by Giovanni Bertati, a Venetian employed as court poet in Vienna, on a subject very popular at the time.
A popular subject
The story was in fact at the centre of a series of 6 paintings by William Hogarth, the Marriage in Fashion, le Mariage à la Mode, published in London between 1743 and 1745, depicting the bad consequences of a wedding between a penniless aristocrat and a rich bourgeois.
From Hogarth’s series of painting to a satirical comedy: The Clandestine Marriage
The two playwrights drew from the paintings not only the idea of a marriage by proxy between a nobleman and the daughter of a wealthy bourgeois but also the satirical inspiration.
Yet, the main difference is that in the play the action focuses on preventing the marriage, which is not carried out as the girl is already secretly married with another man.
The French version by Mme Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni: the comedie larmoyante Sophie ou Le mariage caché
The romantic element of the secret marriage introduced by Garrick and Colmann was picked up French novelist Mme Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni – and/or her friend Térèse Biancolelli- in her comedie larmoyante Sophie ou Le mariage caché, staged in Paris on music by Joseph Kohaut, in 1768.
A libretto up to the latest viennese trends
Bertati’s libretto follows the trends most popular in Vienna: international mixed sources, division into two acts and a limited number of characters: just 6, 3 men and 3 women.
The purpose is to create symmetric situations such as the Count trying in vain to win Carolina’s love and to arouse Elisetta’s disgust, Paolino at the centre of both Carolina’s and Fidalma’s attentions, the two sisters bickering, Geronimo’s and the Earl’s negotiations
Here’s the synopsis: Paolino, Geronimo’s servant, and Carolina are in love and have been married in secret for two months. Despite Paolino’s attempts to persuade his secret bride to flee, she hesitates. The other characters -quite typical of eighteenth-century comedy – are: Geronimo a wealthy merchant, Carolina’s and Elisetta’s father; earl Robinson, an English aristocrat; Elisetta, Carolina’s spiteful and ambitious sister, intended in marriage by her father to the earl Robinson; aunt Fidalma, a mature spinster who also is in love with the young Paolino.
Earl Robinson, who according to Geronimo’s plans should marry Elisetta, falls in love instead with Carolina. Geronimo protest but Robinson declares he’d give up half of the dowry if he could have Carolina, instead of Elisetta, as a wife.
Elisetta’s anger and Fidalma’s declaration to Paolino complicate further the situation, urging Paolino and Carolina to flee. The escape fails. The lovers are discovered but there’s a happy ending. The moral os the story is that love prevails on calculation.
A superficial and ambiguous hint of egalitarianism
Bertati turns the social satire into a mockery of bourgeois, eager to ennoble but happy to save half of the dowry when the opportunity arises.
There’s a hint of egalitarianism in the story – Paolino’s on a lower level of the social ladder compared with Carolina – but superficial and ambiguous. The lord is ultimately the only one who makes decisions, he is “a man of the world” a person whose moral superiority gets never questioned.
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