Pittsburgh Opera resident artists delightful in 'Secret Marriage'

| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 10:12 a.m.


Add another winner to Pittsburgh Opera's string of successes in January productions that showcase its resident artists. The production of “The Secret Marriage,” which was seen at Thursday evening's preview performance, features not only excellent young singers but also a smart and funny production conceived by Stephanie Havey, the company's first resident artist stage director.

Domenico Cimarosa's “Il matrimonio segreto” (The Secret Marriage) was a bigger hit in Vienna, when it premiered in 1792 than any of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's operas had been. It is an ebullient comic opera, filled with contrast, invention and charm. Its general musical style is familiar to us because of Mozart. But while Cimarosa didn't reach the sublime quality of spirit and melodic inspiration Mozart did, “The Secret Marriage” is a thoroughly delightful experience.

Pittsburgh Opera's production makes a strong case for the opera. The romantic leads are very well-sung and portrayed by soprano Meredith Lustig as Carolina and tenor Juan Jose de Leon as Paolino. Theirs is the secret marriage.

Lustig has a glamorous vibrato and impressive range, plus a focus on the words that is never thrown by demands for agility.

The thrust of de Leon's voice is thrilling to experience, not that he overdid it as Paolino. His singing was always confident, even when he was effectively portraying fear or timidity. In addition, he has an extra element of ardent timbre at his command that was very effective with both Carolina and in his first-act aria.

Carolina is one of two daughters of Geronimo, a wealthy merchant. Paolino is his clerk. The secret of their marriage is doomed when Count Robinson arrives, under contract to marry the older daughter Elisetta, but falls for Carolina. Along the way Geronimo's sister, Fidalma, makes a move on Paolino.

The other four roles were all well-performed. Soprano Jasmine Muhammad has a beautiful voice and brought dramatic flexibility and focus to Elisetta. Samantha Korby was a hoot as Fidalma, a sharply drawn characterization abetted by bold costumes. Joseph Barron offered a larger-than-life Geronimo, with singing to match the size of his ego. Kyle Oliver was a comic master as Count Robinson.

Conductor Sara Jobin led an effective performance. She was sensitive to the needs of the performers in her tempo choices and encouraged good forward wind playing. The opera orchestra played very well at the preview performance, with excellent articulation and fine balances.

Havey set the opera before two large walls of artwork in black and white prints. Portions of the walls, and even portions of the paintings, open to function as doors and windows, which the director uses for comic invention. She also adds two mute characters to the opera, a valet and maid. Sarah Ivins as the maid is an almost continual presence, bringing drinks and desserts and straightening up — all deadpan but occasionally very funny.

There were a few moments when Havey went too far, but concerns about them were swept away by her invention of a burst of good humor with her extra characters at the very end of the opera.

Pittsburgh Opera's production of “The Secret Marriage” by Domenico Cimarosa will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Feb. 1, and 2 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, Downtown. Admission is $40.75 to $50.75. Details: 412-456-6666 or www.pittsburghopera.org.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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