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Domenico Cimarosa: Domenico Cimarosa (b. Aversa, 17 Dec 1749; d. Venice, 11 Jan 1801).
Although he was born into a very poor family Domenico Cimarosa studied in Naples under the finest teachers and scored an immediate success at the age of twenty-two with his first opera, Le stravaganze del conte. For the next fifteen years he divided his time between Naples and Rome, composing operas for both cities which were quickly taken up by London, Paris, Vienna and other important centres. Talented, industrious and charming, he won popular success easily and wore it just as lightly. Opera buffa was his speciality, for his music bubbles with simple, natural inventiveness, and while its chief attraction lies in the vocal writing the orchestra is always deftly and delicately handled. He quickly became a rival of Paisiello, hitherto Italy's undisputed king of opera buffa, and the fortunes of the two men were to run parallel courses, though Domenico Cimarosa's life was to be much the shorter.
Following in Paisiello's footsteps, Domenico Cimarosa left his native Italy in 1787 to become court composer to Catherine II in St Petersburg, where he spent four profitable years writing cantatas and instrumental works in addition to two further operas. His next call came from Vienna, Leopold II offering him the position of Kapellmeister to the Austrian court. It was at the Burgtheater in Vienna on the 7th February 1792 that his most enduring work, Il matrimonio segreto, was first performed. So sensational was its reception that the Emperor invited all the participants to supper and then commanded a repeat performance of the entire opera. Later in the same year, however, Leopold died, and Domenico Cimarosa's conquest of Vienna came to an end with the re-instatement of Salieri as Kapellmeister. The silver lining for Domenico Cimarosa was the enthusiastic reception he received on his return to Naples, where Il matrimonio segreto was given an unbroken run of fifty-seven performances and he was made maestro di cappella to the autocratic Ferdinand and music teacher of the princesses. A stream of successful comic operas and less successful serious ones flowed smoothly from his pen, but in 1799 he met his downfall through his sense of social justice. When the French republican army marched into Naples to free the people from the savagery of Ferdinand's rule, Domenico Cimarosa made no secret of his revolutionary enthusiasm. A few months later the odious Ferdinand, with the shameful collaboration of Lord Nelson, recaptured his throne and wreaked barbaric vengeance on those who had briefly overthrown him. Only his fame and popularity saved Domenico Cimarosa from the executioner: after a period of imprisonment he left Naples for St Petersburg but died in Venice on the first leg of his journey.
History has relegated Domenico Cimarosa to minor status because while his music reminds the listener now of Mozart, now of Rossini, it lacks the expressive grace of the former and the glittering panache of the latter. Yet he deserves respect if only for the two charming works which are still revived from time to time: Il matrimonio segreto, which influenced opera buffa through Rossini and Donizetti up to Verdi's Falstaff, and the hilarious one-man show Il maestro di cappella.
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