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Trouble in the hen house

The petit bourgeois society depicted in Bertati’s libretto is using, as tradion would, stereotypical characters some of those based on commedia del arte such as : a highly authoritive stingy borgeois, a young girl to marry against her will, a seductive but weak lover, a rich and old noble in quest of a young beauty and a comical spinster in need of amourous adventures. Truly a comedy of social situation but first and foremost a comedy.

Cimarosa’s music gave us the idea of situating the action of the opera in an 18th century hen house. Inspired by many musical cues such as the constant bickering, the characters remind us of poultry in a farmyard.
With the Petit Trianon farm house Queen Marie Antoinette created a fashion causing many nobles and bourgeois to copy her.
Our protagonists are therefore be inspired by either roosters, chickens, turkeys, pheasants and pigeons all of which make up for our menagerie of characters. The anthropomorphism associated with those farm birds was something Jean de La Fontaine illustrated very well in his famous « Fables ». It gives a reflection of the 18th century society we portray and enough distance to make us fully comprehend its different personalities and social status.

The henhouse is illustrated as a black & white 18th century engraving using a painted backdrop as well as 3D elements all in forced perspective to accentuate the scale as seen by farmhouse birds. It is basically a unit set permitting us, with its different levels and entrances, to suggest the household during a day of commotion. The black & white surrounding also make the different characters stand out very much since they are all dressed in period clothes inspired by the shapes and colours of different poultry.

In the context of a comedy we feel that this approach enables all of us to keep the attention of the audience and make people concentrate on the music of Cimarosa which, after all, is the reason this opera is appreciated and remained in the repertoire until today. We should not forgot that Il Matrimonio Segreto is the only opera that has been entirely bissed from the start on opening night. 

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