Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto
London Museum of Water and Steam. 25 May 2017
In a rather stark contrast to the glitz and glamour of the opening night of Glyndebourne Festival Opera (reviewed here), a few days later saw me in the industrial surroundings of the London Museum of Water and Steam, near Kew Bridge. The event was one of the touring one-night performances by Popup Opera of Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto (The Secret Marriage), one of the most popular comic operas from the 18th century. It was first performed in at the Imperial Theatre in Vienna, and is famed for having the longest encore known, when Emperor Leopold II demanded that the whole thing be repeated from the start, feeding the musicians before their return. In contrast to the elaborate Posh Frocks & Picnics atmosphere of the other place, pre-event dining at this venue seemed to be restricted to eating something unrecognisable out of a cardboard box. The setting was a cleared floor area in the Steam Hall of what, since its construction in 1838, was once a pumping station supplying parts of London with water.
Popup Opera was founded in 2011 and aims to “broaden the appeal of opera and to challenge the way opera is performed, by taking it into unusual spaces and making [it] intimate and engaging”. It currently runs around 90 performances a year touring 3-4 productions. Other performances of Il Matrimonio Segreto include a tunnel, castle, village halls, and churches. Running duel casts for the six roles, with seemingly random selection of dates (presumably based on singer availability) must have meant complex rehearsal arrangements. On the occasion I went, half the cast were singing for the first time, the other three having already done two (but not the same) performances. Elaborately dressed, but simply staged, with four chairs as the only stage furniture, the focus was on comedy and acting, all to the accompaniment of a digital piano played by their Musical Director, Berrak Dyer.
Sung in Italian, the audience were entertained by a sequence of funny comments and contemporary cartoons on what would normally have been the surtitles, in this case projected onto a couple of screens and controlled by a rather enthusiastic theatrical type, earlier spotted trying some high pressure programme selling. When the text was actually ‘translated’, it made several local and present day political comments, including the line “I’ll tell the whole of Brentford you’re a slapper”.
The six singers are all experienced in the world of opera, although several had voices rather more suitable to a later period of music, notably through excessive ‘operatic’ vibrato that really doesn’t work with opera of this period, or before. Chiara Vinci and Mark Bonney were excellent as Carolina and Paolino, the young couple who had secretly married. Tom Asher was also a fine singer as Count Robinson, who takes a shine to Carolina rather than Carolina’s elder sister Elisetta, whose dowry had initially tempted him. Geronimo, the father of the two sisters, and his sister Fidalma, contrive to resolve the complications. The opera is full of consort numbers, all well sung. The acting of all six performance was impressive, particularly given the complexity of dual casting and having to adapt to different venues for one-off performance.
Popup Opera continue to tour Il Matrimonio Segreto until the end of July.