Spoleto 2018 » Theater

Carlo Colla and Sons marry tradition and romance in a classic comedic opera

Tying the Knot

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Perhaps no opera has ever had a more auspicious beginning than Domenico Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto. Premiering for Emperor Leopold II in 1792, the opera was so loved by the Vienna crowd that the emperor requested a full encore of the nearly three-hour production. Now Carlo Colla and Sons Marionette Company and the Westminster Choir are prepared to present their own spin on this revered mix of romance and comedy.

A part of Carlo Colla and Sons repertoire for over 100 years, Il matrimonio segreto (The Secret Marriage) weaves an elaborate web of temptation, unrequited love, and secret marriage, all told with a farcical wink of the eye. Pulling the strings on the cast of characters are the skilled members of Carlo Colla and Sons, led by general manager Piero Corbella.

According to Corbella, productions of famous operas featuring marionettes began as a way to bring the shows to audiences who could not afford or were otherwise unable to see live productions featuring real-life performers. Now marionnetes have become an important instrument for sharing the rich traditions of Italian opera all around the world.

Although Corbella says that Carlo Colla and Sons began working with marionettes around 200 years ago, he maintains that their artistic contributions remain just as relevant today.

"Sometimes people ask us, 'But you are a traditional company. You make something that belongs to the past. How do you think that your kind of work can be appreciated or understood by modern people?'" Corbella says. "Our answer is that we think tradition comes from innovation. Only a good innovation becomes a tradition. Second, we speak with metaphor. The marionettes speak about the feelings of the people. They speak about things that happened 200 years ago, 300 years ago, but you always find the normal life."

With the original opera clocking in at more than two hours, some edits were made to bring Carlo Colla and Sons' performance of Il matrimonio segreto down to a more easily digestible 90-minute run time. Leading a stable of talented musicians, conductor Marco Seco says this version of the opera plays to the strengths of the marionettes on stage, while maintaining the bounce and energy of the original.

"It's a really interesting work to enter and find the right kiss of interpretation to put on the stage, all this acting and theater and energetic music all the time," says Seco, who compares the opera's weaving storylines to a Woody Allen comedy.

Voicing the cast of characters will be members of the Westminster Choir. With 40 members spread out across multiple shows during this year's Spoleto festival, choir director Dr. Joe Miller welcomes the opportunity to bring Il matrimonio segreto to a new audience and share the stage with Carlo Colla and Sons Marionette Company.

"We love being able to stretch ourselves with different styles, different languages, meeting different audiences. That's really an exciting part about being at the festival," says Miller, who encourages festival-goers to venture out of their comfort zones and take in at least one show with which they are unfamiliar. "It's really one of the greatest festivals in the world, partially because of its diversity, all the different things that you can hear and see."

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