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Domenico Cimarosa (17 December 1749, Aversa - 11 January 1801, Venice) was an
Italian opera composer.
Early life and education
His parents were poor, but anxious to give their son a good
education. After moving to Naples, they sent him to a free school connected
with one of the monasteries in that city. The organist of the monastery, Padre
Polcano, was struck by the boy's intellect, and voluntarily instructed him in
the elements of music, and also in the ancient and modern literature of his
country. Because of his influence, Cimarosa obtained a scholarship at the
musical institute of Santa Maria di Loreto, where he remained for eleven
years, chiefly studying the great masters of the old Italian school. Niccola
Piccinni, Antonio Maria Gaspare Sacchini, and other musicians of repute are
mentioned among his teachers.
At the age of twenty-three, Cimarosa began his career as a composer with an
opera buffa called Le stravaganze del conte, first performed at the Teatro del
Fiorentini at Naples in 1772. The work met with approval, and was followed in
the same year by Le pazzie di Stelladaura e di Zoroastro, a farce full of
humour and eccentricity. This work was also successful, and the fame of the
young composer began to spread all over Italy. In 1774 he was invited to Rome
to write an opera for the stagione of that year; and there he produced another
comic opera called L'italiana in Londra.
Over the next thirteen years, Cimarosa wrote a number of operas for the
various theatres of Italy, living temporarily in Rome, in Naples, or wherever
else his vocation as a conductor of his works happened to take him. From 1784
to 1787 he lived in Florence, writing exclusively for the theatre of that
city. The productions of this period of his life are very numerous, consisting
of operas, both comic and serious, cantatas, and various sacred compositions.
The following works may be mentioned, among many others: Cajo Mario; the three
Biblical operas, Assalone, La giuditta and Il sacrificio d'Abramo; also Il
convito di pietra; and La ballerina amante, a comic opera first performed at
Venice with enormous success.
Around 1788, Cimarosa went to St. Petersburg by invitation of Empress
Catherine II. He remained at her court for four years and wrote an enormous
number of compositions, mostly of the nature of pièces d'occasion. Of most of
these not even the names are on record. In 1792 Cimarosa left St. Petersburg,
and went to Vienna at the invitation of Emperor Leopold II. Here he produced
his masterpiece, Il matrimonio segreto, which ranks among the highest
achievements of light operatic music. In 1793 Cimarosa returned to Naples,
where Il matrimonio segreto and other works were received with great acclaim.
Among the works belonging to his last stay in Naples may be mentioned the
charming opera Le astuzie femminili.
This period of his life is said to have been embittered by the intrigues of
envious and hostile persons, among whom figured his old rival Giovanni
Paisiello. During the occupation of Naples by the troops of the French
Republic, Cimarosa joined the liberal party, and on the return of the
Bourbons, was, like many of his political friends, condemned to death. By the
intercession of influential admirers his sentence was commuted to banishment,
and he left Naples with the intention of returning to St. Petersburg. But his
health was broken, and after much suffering he died in Venice on 11 January
1801, of inflammation of the intestines. The nature of his disease led to the
rumor of his having been poisoned by his enemies, which, however, a formal
inquest proved to be unfounded. He worked till the last moment of his life,
and one of his operas, Artemizia, remained unfinished at his death.