The Marriage Contract

The Marriage Contract

Rossini's one-act hilarity.

I went to see Gioachino Rossini's one-act comedic opera La cambiale di matrimonio (The Marriage Contract) yesterday. Premiered in 1810, the hilarious opera still feels surprisingly current with themes of strained European-North American relations and forbidden love. The opera premiered in Venice at the Teatro San Moisé.

If you aren't familiar with Rossini, he was an Italian opera composers who wrote mostly comedic operas. He was something of a child prodigy, composing The Marriage Contract when he was only 18. The composition took him only a few days to complete as a student at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna. He composed 37 operas during his career, retiring from composing at the age of 39.

Based on a 1791-play by Camillo Federici, the opera tells the story of an English merchant named Tobias Mill who sells his daughter Fanny to a Canadian merchant named Slook, a man Mill has only met through letter. Fanny's father doesn't know that she's already engaged to a poor accountant named Edward Milfort, but Mill's employees Clarina and Norton do.

When Slook arrives, he's entirely out of place. He brings his North American accoutrements and attitude, which is seen as uncivilized in England. Fanny and Milfort threaten Slook unless he revokes the marriage contract. Turning out to be a gentleman, Slook agrees and signs Fanny over to Milfort.

Slook tells Mill about the new arrangement, and Mill challenges the Canadian to a duel. Mill fears battling Slook in the end, and by the end of the show, all of the tensions have been resolved. Slook fancies Clarina, and Milfort and Fanny are allowed to wed.

The production I saw took quite a few liberties with the production, and while they provided more comedic relief, they weren't entirely successful. First, they updated the play to the late 1950's, and dressed all the characters as such. As funny as it was to see Slook in flannel underwear toting around a bunch of fish, it was harder to believe that a father would sell his daughter in the 20th century than in the 19th. Second, the setting of the opera seemed to have been moved from England to Italy. In it, Mill owned an Italian bistro. In this production, cultural differences would have been more extreme, but the language barrier was also an issue that it wouldn't have been in the original.

Are you a fan of Rossini's comedic operas? Have you seen The Marriage Contract?