Cimarosa's Covert Couple: 'Il Matrimonio Segreto'

The opera has two acts, both set in Bologna, in the 1700s, at the house of Geronimo. He's a cranky older man with two daughters, Carolina and Elisetta. He also has a hearing problem, constantly misunderstanding everything he's told, to great comic effect.

Carolina has fallen in love with Geronimo's clerk, a young man called Paolino. Not long ago, the two snuck off and got married without telling anyone about it -- having known that Geronimo would never give his consent for Carolina to marry a mere clerk. Now they're afraid to reveal their secret, and as ACT ONE begins they discuss how they might tell Geronimo without him flying into a rage.

But they do have a plan. Paolino has arranged a match between Carolina's older sister, Elisetta, and a wealthy nobleman, Count Robinson. Geronimo has always envied the nobility. So the hope is that Elisetta's engagement to a count will soften the blow of Carolina's marriage to Paolino.

At first, it seems it might actually work. The Count has written to Geronimo, expressing an interest in Elisetta, and Geronimo is enthusiastic. Elisetta is less than overjoyed at the news. Still, she wouldn't mind being a countess. Anticipating her new status she starts acting a bit stuffy, and she and Carolina quickly begin to bicker.

Their quarrel is interrupted by the other woman in the house -- their aunt Fidalma, Geronimo's sister. She's a widow, but tells the younger women that she's also planning to be married. She's coy about the object of her affections -- but then reveals in an aside that she's fallen for the much younger Paolino, providing another complication.

Things come to a head when Count Robinson arrives, in pomp and splendor. At first, he's not certain which of the women he's supposed to be marrying. Of the three -- Carolina, Elisetta and Fidalma -- he finds Elisetta the least attractive. Instead, he prefers Carolina.

So, things look bleak for the secretly married couple. Not only has the Count rejected Elisetta, now he wants to marry Carolina instead. And that's not to mention Fidalma's sudden interest in Paolino. With everyone at cross purposes, the house is in an uproar -- leaving Geronimo, the master of the house, in total confusion.

In ACT TWO, the Count goes to Geronimo and breaks the news that he wants Carolina, not Elisetta. At first, Geronimo is outraged. The Count, he says, has broken his promise. Then the Count offers to marry Carolina at half the dowry they had agreed to for Elisetta, which suits Geronimo just fine.

Fidalma then announces her intentions for Paolino. On top of that, Elisetta accuses Carolina of stealing the Count's affections, and talks Geronimo into sending Carolina to a nunnery.

When Paolino and Carolina hear about that, they decide they have no choice but to run away. But when they try to sneak off in the dark, all the others find reasons to be up and around in the middle of the night -- foiling the escape attempt.

With no other choice, Carolina and Paolino finally admit that they've been married, all along. At first, everyone is outraged. But the Count seems moved by the couple's obvious devotion to one another. Perhaps hoping to find a similar love for himself, he promptly changes his mind, and agrees to marry Elisetta after all. Geronimo gives his blessing, and everyone is happy -- except maybe Fidalma -- as the opera ends.