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On 7 September the Teatro alla Scala will try its hand at the second performance of The Secret Marriage by Domenico Cimarosa for the Academy Project.

The scenographic setting and costumes of Patrick Kinmonth they are glowing, kitschy and multi-colored even if well made and of great visual impact; all this can be visually placed in our days inside a grossly vulgar house with an ostentatious and tacky style, divided between Geronimo’s bedroom, Paolino’s study and the main living room; the backdrops are blown-up pictures of the covers of two large period books and in the center the macro-reproduction of an opera libretto which, on closer inspection, seem to be a symbolic frame that seems to allude to a break in the background of the ancient, in its meaning regressive and obsolete, which also includes Bertati’s supposed libretto and the present in its progressive and trendy meaning (an operation that acts as a vector for directorial poetics).

The visual space is dotted with polychrome and giant marine references and all-pervading coral, as a sort of quintessence of the fiery Mediterranean spirit that has connoted this “Marriage”, which is in fact centered on the monotonous passionate game and on the sinister pecuniary and drive greed.

The director Irina Brook forcedly translates Bertati’s brilliant libretto, thinking of enlivening it not only with legitimate temporal translations or creative interpretative approaches, but rather by translating the course of the characters’ affections and passions from ideals, abstract, stylized, archetypal grotesque drive, corrupting and violating the reason and the deep intentions of the comic opera at the root.

Brook forgets that the unaltered notoriety of this work is nourished by the precious librettist workmanship that Cimarosa declines in its peculiar syntax endowed with powerful structural and formal balances and extremely rare elegance. The director unveils her Freudian hermeneusi by adding to it an agitated unbearable gesture that saturates all the sound spaces; everything is permeated by sex scenes (think of the simulation of a sexual act between Paolino and Carolina in the symphony and much more), ridiculous gags, vulgarity, embraces, erotic winks, unworthy choreography (think of Fidalma, made a nymphomaniac and psychopathic character , which at the end of its aria simulates a posterior penetration with a color appearance); for Brook the dynamics of female stereotypes and even of the purity of feelings (Carolina is a pure and pure and suffered is the love with Paolino in their stealth suffered) can only be translated into a sort of gynoecium in heat, prey to hormonal disorders and hysterical rivalries; Geronimo instead assumes the features of a simple forced pimp and the Count a crude and grim decayed in search of women, betraying Bertati and the richness of the symbolic constellation of the specificities of these theatrical masks. Brook, believing herself to be subversive, is herself taken for granted and obsolete, her narration turns out to be rhetorical and already seen, generating a sense of boredom that continually distracts us from the formal and structural beauty of this masterpiece of musical and vocal refinement.

As if that weren’t enough, the director subjects the young singers to grueling movements, loading the acting and compromising the most lyrical, effusive or virtuosic moments (think of Lisetta’s aria forced to choreograph the impervious colorings of her aria) forgetting the powerful eloquence of the only vocal gesture; in addition we are forced to undergo the execrable practice, which we thought buried with that old conception of the comic opera of an unhealthy province, of choreographing many of the musical scenes in the hope of having a comic and dynamizing effect and obtaining instead, for a heterogenesis of the ends , an ineffective chuckle and a certain embarrassment in the presence of the smile that could have come from a sober comedy.

The vocal parterre of the Academy boasts the participation of Pietro Spagnoli in the role of Geronimo; the well-known artist and veteran of the style and performance practice of this repertoire, confirms himself as a champion for his acting ability, rich sonority, homogeneity of register, timbre beauty, perfect spelling and diction, combined with a vocal technique that allows him to never force sounds.

The rest of the cast is made up of young people from the Accademia della Scala to whom all our applause goes for the overall performance of a good level and for their ability to actively support the director’s claims that are certainly not favorable to singing.

Carolina’s role is held by Aleksandra Mihaylova which undoubtedly has a beautiful timbre and a convincing projection, in the face of a monochord vocal expressiveness and an incorrect pronunciation to which is added an excess of swollen sounds in the center that compromise the solidity of the high register.

Fidalma is Valentina Pluzhnikova which, although endowed with undeniable qualities of mezzo-soprano tending to the alto, includes some very annoying vocal defects such as a constant gutturality and a bad use of the chest register, as well as a lack of homogeneity in the registers and in the projection of the sound.

Pauline is Brayan Avila Martinez, a tenor endowed with a beautiful timbre and a discreet sonority which, however, on the whole shows to have a retroposed and muffled voice with a lack of brilliance that affects projection and articulatory clarity; in addition, the register passage is not optimal, with a tendency to open sounds and difficulties in the acute area and in the colorature.

Count Robinson is Jorge Martinez, baritone with a beautiful timbre and sweetness of emission, which combined with a particular scenic charisma, positively characterized his performance.

Noteworthy is Fan Zhou’s performance in the role ofLisetta: the Chinese soprano proved to have a solid technique, brilliance, ringing, colorature on the breath and swagger in the high register. The soprano was rewarded with lots of applause both at the end of her aria and at the end of the opera.

The concertation of Ottavio Dantone it declines in the sign of a historically informed translation of full-bodied, vibrant sounds but also of a feverish conduct of the parts, generating a climate of totalizing acceleration that has not benefited the overall performance and that is coupled with the scenic speed of the directorial structure; we would have expected from Dantone a dutiful deepening on the coté of expressiveness and the infinite potential of nuances that he could have asked the boys and the orchestra, just as we would have expected a greater ability to indulge and indulge in moments of lyricism and intimism of the score which has instead remained hostage to the choice of perennial speed.

Excellent performance of theOrchestra of the Academy of the Teatro alla Scala, for sound quality, precision and perfect intonation.

Applause for everyone at the end but without particular enthusiasm. Much ado about nothing.

The review refers to the performance of September 7, 2022.

Giovanni Botta

Milan – Teatro alla Scala: The secret marriage