Lucca in February is blissfully free of hordes of tourists: this is a great time to visit those beautiful places which have become rather too frequented. A friend of mine who lives within the city’s walls said to me that Lucca was once like this the whole year through – not all that many bothered to visit this most wonderful of Italian cities except for a few artists and art fanatics like John Ruskin and E.M. Forster’s father, both of whom executed some very fine drawings of Lucca’s streets and Romanesque churches.
Here is a selection of the drawings Ruskin made of Lucca church details on his three main journeys to the city – in 1845, 1872 and 1874. Ruskin states in his “Praeterita” that what was meant to be just a couple of days visit turned out to be a forty year love-affair with this city. Those who know and love Lucca will have no difficulty in recognizing which places are depicted in Ruskin’s exact but evocative drawings and water-colours.
Yesterday afternoon I visited lovely Lucca again for the Sunday afternoon performance of that eighteenth century operatic big hit, Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto (“The Secret Marriage” – with libretto by Giovanni Bertati after Garrick and Coleman’s 1766 comedy, “The Clandestine Marriage”), at the city’s graceful Giglio theatre.
The “drama giocoso” was such a success on the occasion of its first performance in 1792 at Vienna’s Burgtheater that the emperor Leopold II (who, incidentally, was also grand-duke of Tuscany) ordered the repeat of the whole work as an encore! Since the performance I attended was over three hours long this must have meant that the 1792 audience were treated to well over six hours of opera! I’m sure that by the end of that time both singers and audience must have been a little exhausted yet, even more than some of Mozart’s Italian comic operas, Cimarosa’s delightful piece has held the operatic stage continually ever since with undiminished success.
It is easy to see why: the libretto is idiomatic and witty, the plot is uncomplicated, and the music is brilliant and very easy on the ear.
I will leave closer analysis of the opera to Paula Chesterman’s post at http://www.music.tuscantalent.com/.
but just present you with a couple of snippets from the Giglio’s performance under the baton ofJulian Kovachev
Here is an excerpt from the end of act 1:
And another of the opera’s finale:
You can hear the start of the very enthusiastic applause at the end of the production which completely captivated everyone lucky enough to be present at the Giglio theatre. The production was worthy of every handclap: Italo Nunziata’s direction, with the time of the action transposed to the 1890’s, was immaculate, the singing was superb, the orchestra was right on the ball and the whole performance fizzed with the bubbliest of musical champagnes (or spumanti?).
Incidentally, Domenico Cimarosa, son of a washerwoman and a labourer, composed a total of ninety-nine operas including one called “L’Italiana a Londra”, (“An Italian girl in London” – I wonder what she got up to there?). He is the last significant figure of that immortal school of Neapolitan music which includes such wonderful composers as Pergolesi, the Scarlattis and Paisiello..