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Cimarosa, Domenico: Il matrimonio segreto (1792)
Act 1: Aria: “È vero che in casa io son la padrona” (Fidalma)
Aria Talk •
Editor's Note: OPERA America’s “Aria Talk” column often emphasizes repertoire for large-voiced singers. The column focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
Why force yourself to audition with dramatic-mezzo material when you're really a character mezzo? Provided you're comfortable playing a woman of a certain age and can project an appealing sense of humor, Fidalma in Il matrimonio segreto should work perfectly for you. Vocally it's a little less florid and slightly shorter than Marcellina's aria from Figaro (which was actually written for a soprano). Even if you are, in fact, a dramatic mezzo, it will impress your listeners if you can skillfully lighten up your voice with a piece like this. Consider two legendary Italian mezzos of the 1940s and ‘50s, Ebe Stignani and Giulietta Simionato; their vocal flexibility enabled them to move easily from Fidalma to Amneris and Azucena and back again.
We're in mid-18th-century Bologna in the home of the wealthy Geronimo. He and his sister, Fidalma, who runs his household, have no idea that Geronimo's younger daughter, Carolina, has secretly married Paolino, his handsome young secretary. Geronimo is ecstatic to receive a letter from a certain Count Robinson who wishes to marry Geronimo's older daughter, Elisetta (undoubtedly influenced by the prospect of her large dowry). Early in the opera Fidalma, a lively widow, makes clear to Elisetta that she's ready for a second marriage. In an aside she confesses that she has her eye on someone — Paolino! In the ensuing aria, Fidalma tells Elisetta that, although she's the mistress of the house and enjoys the affection of everyone around her, and even though she has the freedom basically to do as she pleases, life is simply better with a husband! "You'll be married soon," Fidalma says, "and you'll see that I'm right."
You need good flexibility for the final phrases, plus easy high G-sharps (there are two, both of them just briefly touched). Even more crucial, however, is your being able to bring genuine grace to the buoyant, dance-like feeling that dominates most of the aria. The crucial words "Con un marito via meglio si sta" are delightfully set by Cimarosa and heard numerous times; you have to find a variety of colors to give them great charm at each repetition. Although you're a worldly-wise aunt singing to her niece, at the same time there's a sort of "gal pal" quality to the character here that should come through in your presentation.
Recording: Marta Szirmay (DVD, EuroArts label); Julia Hamari (CD, Deutsche Grammophon label)
About the Author: "Aria Talk" is written by Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera of Chicago, who judges annually for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and regularly advises singers on choosing repertoire.