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Dowry and arranged marriage: The first opera at Mumbai’s Opera House will remind you of Bollywood

This is the first full-length opera ever to be performed at the 105-year-old landmark.

Less than a year after the Royal Opera House Mumbai reopened its doors to the public, its first full-length opera will grace the stage this month, with four performances of Domenico Cimarosa’s 1792 comedy Il Matrimonio Segreto or The Secret Marriage.

The opera has been produced by the Giving Voice Society, headed by Mumbai-origin soprano Patricia Rozario, who sang at the gala re-opening ceremony of the ROH Mumbai in 2016. Rozario is Professor of Voice at the Royal College of Music, London, and will be accompanied by her pianist-husband Mark Troop.

The two set up Giving Voice Society in 2009, with the aim of raising the standard of Western classical singing (both art song and opera) in India. This is their third full-length opera production. The two previous ones were Benjamin Britten’s The Little Sweep in 2013 and Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in 2014.

Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto is a two-act opera with a libretto by Giovanni Bertati, which in turn is based on the play The Clandestine Marriage by George Colman the Elder and David Garrick. In a truly creative cascade encompassing art, literature, satire, theatre and music, the idea for the comedy play came from a series of six pictures, Marriage A-La-Mode by English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic and cartoonist William Hogarth (1697-1764).

Act I from an East European staging of the opera, with English subtitles.

Geronimo, a wealthy citizen of Bologna, has two daughters Elisetta and Carolina. Carolina is secretly married to her father’s young secretary Paolino. Count Robinson, tempted by the prospect of an attractive dowry, asks for the hand of Elisetta. Geronimo is ecstatic that his daughter will become a Countess. Paolino helps draw up the contract, hoping that once Elisetta is married, it will be easier for Geronimo to accept his marriage to Carolina.

The trouble begins when Count Robinson is smitten with Carolina instead, and is willing to accept a smaller dowry to be wed to her. Carolina dare not reveal her secret marriage to Paolino, and Elisetta resents her younger sister for what she sees as a betrayal, and the sabotage of her match.

The plot thickens as the story proceeds – in the end, the secretly-wed couple, Carolina and Paolino, come clean to Geronimo and are forgiven, and the Count and Elisetta decide to tie the knot anyway.

Act 2, with English subtitles.

Troop explains: “The Secret Marriage is a comedy based on marriage and the pretensions surrounding class and matchmaking, which we thought would transfer well to India, as Indians are specialists in marriage and matchmaking. It is light rather than bombastic, and the slapstick-style comedy, not unlike some of the misunderstandings in Indian television drama or Bollywood, we thought would translate well.”

Rozario added, “We have been teaching in India for the last seven years and we have found more and more singers coming to us from all over India. It is really exciting but we have to choose operas that we know the singers can do well. A couple of years ago we did four opera scenes by Handel, Mozart, Jonathan Dove, and Cimarosa and as The Secret Marriage was the most successful, we started to think about the possibility of performing the whole opera.”

Marriage à-la-mode, by William Hogarth.
Marriage à-la-mode, by William Hogarth.

The opera production has a double cast of 12 Indian singers, something that ROHM curator Asad Lalljee is excited about. “It is in keeping with our vision of being a promoter of performing arts for both regional and international operatic performers,” he said. “We have been working towards bringing operatic performances to firmly re-establish the Royal Opera House in Mumbai as an opera space of international quality.”

Danish conductor Maria Badstue, who was adopted from a children’s home in Pandharpur when she was a five-month-old, is visiting India for the first time since her birth.

“I have rarely been as happy for a musical invitation as I was from this invitation to visit my country of birth for the first time, with music!” she said. “It has been such a joy and pleasure to meet the entire team behind the opera... just amazing.”

The roles and repertoire must be chosen carefully when deciding which opera to stage, said Troop. “The tendency of singers in India is to sing repertoire that is too heavy, putting strain on young voices.”

A rehearsal of ‘Il Matrimonio Segreto’ in Mumbai.
A rehearsal of ‘Il Matrimonio Segreto’ in Mumbai.

Baritone Oscar Castellino from Mumbai, who sings Count Robinson, agrees. “As a young singer it is important that you sing the role that is best suited for you as choosing the wrong repertoire can lead to voice strain and further vocal problems.”

Hyderabadi tenor Sandeep Gurrapadi was pleasantly surprised when offered the role of Paolino and is enjoying the rehearsal process: “The plot is funny and quite self-aware, it’s neither pretentious melodramatic, but keeps you giggling right from the start with its quirky dialogues, snappy satire and intelligent humour poking fun at societal affectations.”

Il Matrimonio Segreto will be performed at the Royal Opera House Mumbai on July 27 and July 28 at 7 pm, and on July 29 at 4 pm and 7.30 pm.

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