As we get closer to the company’s upcoming production of L’Italiana in Londra, I, as conductor-in-residence, have naturally done my own research into the composer, Domenico Cimarosa.
Not many opera-goers know much about him these days, but he was really the king of opera buffa (Italian comic opera) in the late 18th Century. Born in the south of Italy in 1749, he got his musical training in Naples and there began to compose operas.
L’Italiana was one of Cimarosa’s first operas to be set in standard Italian (rather than Neapolitan dialect) and to be set outside of Italy in the “exotic” location of London. It was commissioned by the Teatro Valle in Rome and premiered there on December 28, 1778. It became a huge success and was eventually performed all over Europe: at La Scala in Milan, Le Fenice in Venice, and soon in Paris, London, St. Petersburg, Vienna, and Barcelona, to name a few.
Cimarosa’s librettist, Giuseppe Petrosellini, concocted a story that, as usual in comic opera, involves love thwarted by circumstances: in this case Milord Arespingh’s father disapproving of his involvement with Livia (the Italian girl) and recalling him to London. A determined Livia follows him there in disguise to find out what has happened. She works at an inn where, as it just so happens, Milord is staying! (What were the odds?)
Things unravel from there (or develop, depending on your point of view.) As with most operas, there is a terrible oversight in the complete lack of cats. Nonetheless, Cimarosa’s music is fresh and lively all the way through and shows why, even at a fairly young age, he was fully at home in the genre of opera buffa.
He died in Venice in 1801 after having been exiled from his beloved Naples. Political turmoil in the form of two regime changes were the culprit, as Cimarosa unsuccessfully tried to navigate all the upheaval. Mourned in his homeland, his operas remained popular for another couple of decades before changing tastes starting relegating them to the sidelines. We’re doing our part to bring at least one of them back into the limelight!