Thursday 12 September 2013

Vivid comedy - Cimarosa's The Secret Marriage

Rosalind Coad (Elisetta), Matthew Durkan (Servant), Bradley Travis (Count Robinson), Frazer B Scott (Geronimo), Nick Dwyer (Servant), Heather Lowe (Fidalma) and Alice Rose Privett (Carolina) in BYO's The Secret Marriage [Credit: Clive Barda / ArenaPAL]
Rosalind Coad (Elisetta), Matthew Durkan (Servant),
Bradley Travis (Count Robinson),  Frazer B Scott (Geronimo),
Nick Dwyer (Servant),  Heather Lowe (Fidalma) , Alice Rose Privett (Carolina)
in BYO's The Secret Marriage [Credit: Clive Barda / ArenaPAL]
Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto (The Secret Marriage) could not be more different than British Youth Opera's first opera in their 2013 season, Britten's Paul Bunyan. But both operas span the range of talents required of young opera singers. British Youth Opera's production of Cimarosa's 1792 opera buffa premiered at the Peacock Theatre on 11 September 2013, directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, designed by Ellan Parry with Nick Pritchard, Alice Rose Privett, Frazer B Scott, Rosalind Coad, Heather Love and Bradley Travis with Roy Laughlin conducting the Southbank Sinfonia. The opera was sung in Donald Pippin's English translation.

With just a cast of six, and full of arias, duets and ensembles, Cimarosa's lively opera requires a different degree of communicativeness to Britten's early operetta.  Arias are long and sometimes complex for a start and there is also the issue of recitative, which in opera buffa requires a particularly vivid projection.

The opera was written for Vienna and the plot, based on a play by George Colman the Elder and David Garrick, is about the stratagems that Paolino (Nick Pritchard) and Carolina (Alice Rose Privett) must go to to hide their marriage from Geronimo (Frazer B  Scott), her father and his employer. Add into the mix Geronimo's sister Fidalma (Heather Lowe), a rich widow on the lookout for another husband, and eccentric English Lord, Count Robinson, (Bradley Travis) who is intended to marry Carolina's elder sister Elistetta (Rosalind Coad), but who falls in love with Carolina, and you can see where the plot is heading.

By performing the opera in English and setting it in England, Lloyd-Evans set a problem as the original has Count Robinson as an eccentric English milord. Lloyd-Evans' neat solution was to transpose the action to the 1920's and make Robinson a Bertie Wooster figure. This enabled Ellan Parry to produce a series of settings inspired by Mondrian, clearly a modernist house, which enabled the action to flow neatly and flexibly, and design some lovely 1920's costumes.

The six cast members were supplemented by six servants (played by the covers) who took a very active role in the production, not only watching but participating in the action and at times guiding it. In the act one ensemble, where Robinson first meets Carolina and Elisetta and realises that he is in love with the wrong one, Lloyd-Evans froze the action but left the servants mobile so that they stopped Travis moving off stage. Then at the end of that act, there was a long scene as the family are going in to dinner with lots of comic interaction and misunderstandings between everyone. This was played out in front of a gallery of family portraits (the servants holding empty picture frames in front of themselves), but the joke was that the family were stationery, pretending to walk whilst the 'pictures' were moving. A neat joke and done in very funny manner, but one which seemed to indicate that Lloyd-Evans was beginning to lose confidence in his material.

This is understandable, because the opera is long. I have to confess that I felt that a few places seemed to need cutting as Cimarosa does rather go one somewhat, many of the arias and ensembles seemed to not know when to stop. It is a credit to the young cast that they managed to hold our attention and project the comedy so vividly. All six were a complete delight and had fine comic timing. Privett and Coad made a well differentiated pair of sisters, constantly squabbling and bickering. Lowe as their elderly aunt was a not so elderly figure, but clearly rather plain and definitely over addicted to the bottle, a brilliant comic portrait indeed. Privett and her stage husband, Pritchard, made a lovely pairing, with a great deal of sympathetic comic business (and quite a lot of sex) but also a very real feeling of partnership.

Travis was simply brilliant as the crazy Robinson, but with a heart of gold underneath, from his entry via parachute to his horrendously patterned clothes. Travis clearly has a great gift for comedy. Frazer B Scott did very well in the role of Geronimo, he too was funny and made the role work even though he was clearly far too young (Geronimo is supposed to be old, cranky and deaf).

Rosalind Coad (Elisetta) and Bradley Travis (Count Robinson) in BYO's The Secret Marriage [Credit: Clive Barda / ArenaPAL]
Coad and Travis
Technically a few slight allowances had to be made. All the performances were highly creditable and a great tribute to the cast. Coad seemed to be the singer most at home in Cimarosa's sometimes elaborate vocal lines. Privett and Prichard had moments when the roulades (and there were a lot of them) seemed a little smudged. Both sisters are sopranos and the tessitura of both parts seems to sit rather high. This is one of those times when performing at original pitch might have helped. You could not help noticing that both Privett and Coad seemed to develop a little hardness as their voice repeatedly visited the upper registers.

That said, this was a very enjoyable and very funny performance, one which brought the comedy out through character and which demonstrated a great ensemble feel. I must also credit the six servants (Alessandro Fisher, Gabriella Cassidy, Nick Dwyer, Helen Bailey, Rozanna Madylus and Matthew Durkan) who were as funny in their own way whilst never pulling focus from the principals.

Though Cimarosa's writing is less dense than Mozart's, there is a great deal of interest in his orchestral writing and you could hear how he sits between Mozart and Rossini (with nods to both at different times). The Southbank Sinfonia played very sensitively with some nice solo wind playing. Conductor Roy Laughlin has a history with this opera and clearly has great affection for it. He kept things moving admirably, without appearing to rush his singers, so that though there were moments when you wished Cimarosa would get a move on, the piece never quite outstayed its welcome.

British Youth Opera have an appeal going at the moment, the company is very reliant on the support of donors and charitable trusts and three of the major charitable trusts which supported the group have closed in the last three years. This means that next year's season is in danger, so please do think about supporting them.

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