Even though Domenico Cimarosa and Giovanni Bertati wrote their comic opera “El Matrimonio Secreto” (“The Secret Marriage”) more than 225 years ago, the production opening Florida Grand Opera’s (FGO) season this weekend will seem very familiar to Miami audiences.
Director Crystal Manich updated the setting to Miami Beach and the singers will perform in “South Floridian Spanish” in a new translation by Darwin Aquino and Benedetta Orsi.
Manich, an accomplished stage and film director based in Los Angeles, began work on the production, originally scheduled to debut in 2020 before the pandemic shuttered arts venues for nearly two years.
“FGO and [general manager] Susan Danis had this idea of changing an Italian opera into a Spanish-language comedy. They really wanted to get a new translation and set it in the 1980s in Miami,” recalled Manich via Zoom. “Obviously, the Cuban community is so huge in Miami and the idea of doing a show that they would recognize [with] the cultural references was intriguing. I interviewed people who lived in Miami in the 80s and got their take to put it on stage.”
The action takes place in the fictional South Beach Hotel Paraiso, where traditional dad Geronimo is trying to marry off his two modern daughters, not realizing one has already eloped – with an Anglo. Even before the FGO update, cultures clash in hilarious ways, not unlike popular television sitcoms.
In its day, “El Matrimonio secret” was a big hit, outselling contemporary operas by Mozart and eliciting the longest-standing ovation in history. But, for recent generations, the opera and its composer have maintained only a niche following.
Updating classic operas has become a common practice, resurrecting melodious scores and intriguing plots by changing the setting, as Manich has done.
“Comedy in opera is really adaptable to different time periods and approaches. Dramas are steeped in such a specific period in history, but comedies are abstract enough,” explained Manich. “I had a great design team and we had a ball coming up with ideas.”
Look for big hair, lots of pastels and palm trees, and even a swimming pool on stage, Manich promised. But musically, Cimarosa’s score remains untouched.
“The musical structure is the same and the instrumentation is the same – it was written in the same era as Mozart. The key is in the characterizations. With recitative, there is a lot of flexibility and the actor controls the pacing. That is a way to make it interesting in how the line is expressed, that will be key,” she said.
Even though the performers will be sipping cafecitos and Cuba libres, the music never seems divorced from the Latin archetypes Manich incorporates into the staging.
She summed up her objective: “My goal is for the audience to walk away feeling like they’ve seen themselves, especially if they’re a part of the Latino community in Miami. But if not, to have enjoyed themselves and have enjoyed seeing operatic comedy in a new way and recognize the universal themes that have inspired great art through the centuries.”
Florida Grand Opera presents “El Matrimonio Secreto,” Nov. 12 – 15 at the Arsht Center in Miami. Tickets start at $18 at FGO.org.