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A CurtainUp BerkshiresBerkshire Review

The Secret Marriage
An opera rarity

By Elyse Sommer
I'll confess that while I think some operas actually benefit from minimal staging, I was a bit hesitant about seeing the Berkshire Opera Company's one-man-orchestra (a piano) version of Domenico Cimarosa's opera buffo, The Secret Marriage. I'm also not enamored of Italian operas sung in English. Yet never having never seen my neighborhood high school's spanking new auditorium and piqued by the chance to experience a work totally unfamiliar to me, I went. The auditorium is comfortable and spacious without being overwhelmingly big and the high school could easily become home to other arts and entertainment events in the future. Since it's not equipped for super titles and the BOC's young singers may still be mastering their language skills, using the English version by Donald Pippin actually made sense. What's more, the singers' voices were so rich and clear and well coached by director/conductor Kathleen Kelly and director Sam Helfrich, that the words were perfectly clear, unlike many operas-in-English which tend to sound as if they were being sung in a foreign language.

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The title refers to the marriage of Carolina and Paolino who hope to win her socially ambitious father's approval once her older sister Elisetta marries Count Robinson. In typical comic opera fashion, the Count falls in love with Carolina and all sorts of comic complications get in the way of the ultimately happy ending. If it all sounds slightly reminiscent of The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart's influence hovers everywhere. But though Mozart's name lives on and Figaro ranks high in the canon of popular operas, Cimarosa's name has faded into obscurity and The Secret Marriage is the only one of his more than seventy operas to survive-- that survival based on very occasional productions. While the public liked him (Leopold II who attended the 1792 premiere of The Secret Marriage in Vienna is said to have requested an immediate encore), critics tended to write off his pleasing music as the elevator music of its day.

Even if sung in the original language and without supertitles, the romantic comedy of errors would be easy enough to follow especially since the six young men and women are solid actors. Laura Choi Stuart has a magnificent soprano voice which will surely be heard in many other opera productions. Good as her performance is, it's almost unfair to single her out given the excellence of her five other colleagues. While there are some fine solo arias and duets, this opera is at its best during the extended ensemble episodes.

The production lives up to its "fully staged" billing but very modestly so, with a few props. Jennifer Halpern's modern costumes add a nice touch, as do the scenes that take advantage of the side passages leading to and from the stage. The opera's original three hours have been trimmed to a well-paced two and a half hours which includes the intermission.

Ms. Kelly's presence at a podium without orchestra seems to emphasize the use of a sole piano to accompany the singers, and struck me as an unnecessary conceit. Otherwise, and thanks to Joseph Fuller's deft playing, the piano as orchestra serves the production well.

The Secret Marriage isn't an aria hummer of an opera, but it's fun and enjoyable. The Berkshire Opera is to be commended for giving audiences eight chances to become acquainted with it.
The Secret Marriage
Music by Domenico Cimarosa
Libretto by Giovanni Bertati, after A Clandestine Marriage by George Colman and David Garrick.
Performed fully-staged in English with piano
English version by Donal Pippin
Conductor Kathleen Kelly
Director Sam Helfrich
Piano Joseph Fuller
Cast who are members of the BOC's Resident Artist Program: Paolino/ Jason Ferrante, Count Robinson/ Matthew Moore, Elisetta/ Natasha Ospina, Fidalma/ Brenda Patterson, Geronimo/ Richard Reeves, Carolina Laura Choi Stuart
Performances: July 22, 24, 26, 29, 31 and August 2 at 8:00 pm July 27 and August 3 at 2:00 pm
2 and 1/2 hours, includes one intermission Lee High School Auditorium, Lee MA
Tickets: $15 open seating
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on July 22nd performance
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