Domenico Cimarosa (Italian: [doˈmeːniko tʃimaˈrɔːza] (listen); 17 December 1749 – 11 January 1801) was an Italian composer of the Neapolitan school and of the Classical period. He wrote more than eighty operas, the best known of which is Il matrimonio segreto (1792); most of his operas are comedies. He also wrote instrumental works and church music.
Cimarosa was principally based in Naples, but spent some of his career in various other parts of Italy, composing for the opera houses of Rome, Venice, Florence and elsewhere. He was engaged by the empress of Russia Catherine the Great as her court composer and conductor between 1787 and 1791. In his later years, returning to Naples, he backed the losing side in the struggle to overthrow the monarchy there, and was imprisoned and then exiled. He died in Venice at the age of 51.
Cimarosa was born in Aversa, a town near Naples. His family name was Cimmarosa, which is how he is recorded on his baptismal record. He appears to have been an only child. His father, Gennaro, was a stonemason, and within days of Domenico’s birth the family moved to Naples where Gennaro found employment on the construction of the Palace of Capodimonte. When Domenico was seven, Gennaro fell from scaffolding and was killed. His widow, Anna, was taken on as a laundress by the monastic order of the Church of San Severo, and Cimarosa received a good education – including musical training – from the monks and clergy of the church. He progressed so well in his musical studies that he was admitted to Naples’s leading college of music, the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto, in 1761, when he was twelve. His teachers were Gennaro Manna and Fedele Fenaroli for composition and Saverio Carcais, the maestro de violino. He was a capable keyboard player, violinist and singer, but composition was his primary concern as a student; 1770 he, Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli and Giuseppe Giordani were senior students in the composition class.
As a student Cimarosa wrote sacred motets and masses, but he first came to public notice with the premiere in 1772 of his first commedia per musica, Le stravaganze del conte, performed at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples. The work met with approval, and was followed in the same year by Le pazzie di Stelladaura e di Zoroastro. 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. In 1777 he married Constanza Suffi, who died the following year.