Keeping it in the family

Published

Kate Hughes previews the Theatre Royal’s new season-opener, The Secret Marriage

Scottish Opera began their winter season with an inspired adaptation of Italian composer Domenico Cimarosa’s most lauded work, his 1792 opera Il Matrimonio Segreto (The Secret Marriage).

Director Harry Fehr’s production is a far cry from the original Viennese setting, as the drama and scenery are transported from the 18th century to the stage of upper class 1950s Britain, with an English translation to match. In spite of such a radical shift, the story — of a father’s attempt to marry off his two daughters, causing a heated love triangle — seems just as fitting to the troubles of marriage in the post-war decades, and the scenery and costumes add an extra elegance to the performance.

The squabbling sisters are acted brilliantly — though Wendy Dawn Thompson, playing Fidalma, steals the comedic air of the show with a role that is half mediator, half seductress. However, whilst all of the performer’s interpretations of Cimarosa’s acute social observations provide genuine humour to the piece, there are moments when the linguistic comedy seems at odds with the score. Though this is a more modern portrayal, proclamations of “bloody hell” still seem rather clumsily sung alongside the orchestra — perhaps the sacrifice of adapting a 200 year old opera.

A bold and confident debut from conductor Garry Walker allows for the orchestra’s solo pieces and larger sections to harmonise with the cast brilliantly. The voices themselves are equally impressive, surprisingly so in some cases — especially in the shape of Rebecca Botonne, playing the younger daughter Carolina, whose petite frame hides the strongest voice of the cast.

Bottone’s voice is utilised beautifully with those of the other performers’ to create complex and moving melodies. It is hard not to be drawn in by the energy and light-hearted drama on stage, and any moments where the (not insignificant) length of the production begins to be felt are quickly superceded by another burst of life.