This afternoon’s performance of Il matrimonio segreto marked my first visit to the beautiful Teatro Regio in Parma. It’s a jewel of a house, ornate in the manner of so many Italian theatres. The seats are comfortable and the welcome is most cordial. It’s certainly a very nice place indeed to see a show. This Matrimonio segreto is a coproduction between the Ópera de Tenerife, the Teatro Massimo Palermo, and Parma. The youthful cast are all graduates of the Opera (e)Studio on the Canarian isle. The orchestra today was provided by the Orchestra Cupiditas, based in the Tuscan town of Prato, and placed under the direction of the equally youthful Davide Levi. The similarly young Palermitano stage director Roberto Catalano, was responsible for the staging.
The first performance of ll matrimonio segreto in Parma took place in the carnival season of 1796, and it was quite apposite to see it at that same time of the year, two hundred and twenty-seven years later. Catalano has given us a bright and vibrant piece of theatre, one that has clearly been fluently rehearsed – impressively so since, due to indisposition, the cast today was composed of half the scheduled singers, with the remainder from the other half of this double cast run. Catalano’s staging is ideal Sunday afternoon escapism. He sets the action in New York City, in what appears to be either an upmarket pâtisserie, or a diamond store – or indeed possibly both. The sets and costumes, by Emanuele Sinsi and Ilaria Ariemme respectively, consist of bright pink and baby blue. For Act 1, Catalano populates the stage with constant action – a group of actors incorporate pastry chefs or customers, and an elderly lady with a prop dog is a constant presence. Said lady is revealed at the end to be a Fred Astaire figure in disguise – I’m not sure why, but it did make the closing ensemble lively. In Act 2, Catalano uses lighting (Fiammetta Baldiserri) quite sensitively to crate an optimistic dream world, where Carolina and Paolino imagine their escape together, where Catalano brings skyscrapers made of cake/diamond boxes into the middle of the stage, reminding us of the magical draw of big cities and of the Big Apple in particular.
Catalano’s staging is a happy one that had the Parmigiano audience laughing with great glee and applauding generously throughout. One might think the presence of actors distracting, but actually here it worked, since Catalano always puts the principals in the centre of our focus Indeed, in the Act 1 finale, the stage action amplified the score, with the constant moving of the actors in the background, with the principals in the foreground, reflected the heartening busyness of Cimarosa’s score.
«It certainly helped that he was partnered with a conductor as insightful and sensitive as Levi. His reading was terrifically sprightly and always elegant in phrasing. He encouraged his strings to play with the minimum of vibrato and the physicality of the rhythmic impetus pulled us in. String intonation was excellent throughout, and the trumpets and horns were well behaved. Levi kept the recitatives moving nicely, helping the events on stage to crackle with excitement. A harpsichord was used to accompany the recitatives, energetically played by Hana Lee. «
One of the significant attractions of today’s performance was getting to hear promising young artists at the outset of their careers. Indeed, at several points during the evening I started thinking of what other roles I would like to hear these young singers in. Antonio Mandrillo brought a well-focused and bright tenor to the role of Paolino. He’s a highly engaging actor, with impeccable comic timing, and the way that he relished the language and used it to colour the text and bring out multiple facets of his character, promises a bright future in the lighter Donizetti roles. His tenor has a delectably tart edge that is quite individual in tone and he was able to turn the corners of his part with ease. Ignas Melnikas was a similarly interesting find as Geronimo. His is an oaky bass-baritone, perhaps a little dry in tone, but with genuine personality. He was a terrifically outsized stage presence and he rose to his quick-fire patter duet with Ramiro Maturana’s Conte Robinson with aplomb. I hope one day to hear his Dulcamara. Maturana brought a handsome baritone to his role, warm in tone and even from top to bottom, with an elegant legato.
Veronika Seghers brought a slender but agile soprano to the role of Carolina. She has agility to spare and a genuine trill. Her diamantine tone was certainly attractive. Veta Pilipenko camped it up terrifically as Fidalma. Her mezzo is absolutely even throughout the range, navigating the passaggio with ease. She exploited her generous chestiness rather tastefully and she’s a terrific comic actress – most certainly a Quickly in the making. Marilena Ruta gave us a confidently sung Elisetta, also negotiating the corners easily, in a milky soprano that carried easily.
This was an extremely uplifting afternoon in the theatre. Catalano has given us a staging full of comic detail, one that provides just the kind of Sunday afternoon escapism one appreciates. Levi’s conducting also kept the score moving and the recitatives crackled with irresistible comic tension. The young cast also acquitted themselves well and featured several promising voices. The Parmigiano audience clearly loved what they saw and accorded the entire cast frequent laughs and applause throughout the show, and a generous ovation at the end. The production will be available to watch on OperaVision from next month.