II Matrimonio Segreto Talks Class Consciousness, Familial Love


Abe Frato

Conservatory Vocalists Rehearse in Bibbins

From March 24–27 in Hall Auditorium, the Oberlin Opera Theater will stage Domenico Cimarosa’s most famous opera, Il Matrimonio Segreto (“The Secret Marriage”), under the direction of Associate Professor of Opera Theater Jonathon Field. 

Oberlin Conservatory vocalists, who will sing the piece in its original Italian, are set to perform alongside the Oberlin Orchestra under guest conductor Christopher Larkin. Live supertitles translating the Italian will be available for the audience.

Il Matrimonio Segreto, a drama full of twists, turns, and betrayals, tells the story of a wealthy merchant, Geronimo, who lives with his two daughters, Elisetta and Carolina, and his sister Fidalma. The family’s young secretary Paolino has been secretly married to Carolina for months.

In order to confess their marriage without upsetting her father, Carolina and Paolino hatch a plan to get Count Robinson, a wealthy nobleman, to marry Elisetta. The plan goes awry, however, when Count Robinson shows up and falls in love with the wrong sister, creating a complicated love triangle that only gets trickier as the opera progresses.

Il Matrimonio Segreto was first performed in 1792, which means some of the dialogue and dynamics are unfamiliar to modern American audiences.

“The challenge of an opera — especially the one we’re doing, which is an 18th-century opera — is how to make it relevant to today’s context,” said Conservatory second-year Benhur Ghezehey, who plays Geronimo in the opera. 

Ghezehey mentioned that despite some of these disconnects, many of the concepts present in the opera can still apply to modern-day life. 

“Even though the opera is 200 years older than us, it’s still a relevant human story because nothing has changed,” he said. “This is the human condition. It’s a lesson for our society how far we have come and how we need to improve.”

Ghezehey also spoke on the difficulties of conveying all of these sides in a way that is true to the character but also in a historically accurate manner. 

“How did an 18th-century Italian act?” he asked. “How do they talk? How do they move? … I also see how fathers act because I’m portraying a father. How do fathers act toward their daughters, toward their family? … Acting is inspired by real life as well, and the craft is how you take that real life and blend it with the historical to give something that is both true onstage and can be convincing.”

These questions of how to act in ways that are appropriate to Italian citizens was a factor that helped Field make the decision to stage Il Matrimonio Segreto. 

“I always like to do a piece each year in a foreign language because it really helps train our singers to think and act in a foreign language,” Field said. “We also went with a piece … that young singers could learn from. … It’s a piece that is done by a lot of conservatory-type schools across the country.” 

Field also mentioned that the small cast that this opera requires was appealing because they weren’t sure how many singers would be able to perform with the ongoing pandemic. 

Ghezehey is excited for the performances and for the audience to experience the silly, dramatic story. 

“It’s a very neat, very witty way of storytelling,” he said. “There is a lot of entanglements that come, a lot of confusion, a lot of love. It’s a family comedy. … Whether it’s in the 18th century or the 21st century, it’s the same.” 

Field expressed similar sentiments, and emphasized how exciting it was to play dress-up.

“It’s a funny musical piece, and audiences really enjoy it,” he said. “The cast is very enthusiastic about what they’re doing. To see them in these period clothes during the period movement is really going to be very, very exciting. I recommend this one very highly for people to come and see. It’ll be fun.”

For Conservatory second-year Alan Rendzak, the marriage provides a foundation for the unpredictable turns in this wild and comedic opera.

“Il Matrimonio?! The marriage summarizes the many p–roblems to be encountered in this opera buffa,” Rendzak said. “At points it seems nothing works out, but then everything works out only for shit to hit the fan. But hey, you’ll have to come to see if things can be fixed once more.”

Il Matrimonio Segreto will show on March 24–26 at 8 p.m. in Hall Auditorium and finish with a matinee on Sunday, March 27 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available for $10 ($8 for Oberlin students) online, by visiting Central Ticket Service noon to 5 p.m. weekdays, or by calling 800-371-0178.