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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Mirandolina (1953-54) - a comic opera in three acts to a libretto by the composer after Carlo Goldoni's play La Locandiera (1753)
Mirandolina, locandiera - Daniela Bruera (sop)
Ortensia, commediante - Tereza Mátlová (sop)
Deianira, commediante - Elena Traversi (mezzo)
Fabrizio, cameriere di locanda - Massimiliano Tonsini (ten)
Il Conte d'Albafiorita - Simon Edwards (ten)
Il Cavaliere di Rippafratta - Enrico Marabelli (bass-bar)
Il Marchese di Forlimpopoli - Simone Alberghini (bass)
Servitore del Cavaliere - Simeon Esper (ten)
National Philharmonic Orchestra of Belarus/Riccardo Frizza
Rec. 24, 27, 30 Oct 2002, Wexford Festival Opera, BBC Radio 3. DDD
SUPRAPHON SU 3770-2 632 [67:02 + 37:10]

Martinů wrote Mirandolina in Nice, working in Italian. Freed from worries in the sunny relaxation of those years the composer’s joy in creation pervades this score. There is no sign of the tragedy or darker grand passions that had wrung from him such works as the Third Symphony and the Concerto for Piano, Timpani and Double String Orchestra. Instead what we have is a work of exuberance, affection and humour quite unlike the surreal and sometimes bewildering impressionism of Julietta or the grandeur and stark grimness of The Greek Passion.

While detail of the plot is just too much to summarise the action is set in Florence at Miss Mirandolina’s tavern. ‘La Locandiera’ is, by the way, Italian for ‘the Mistress of the Inn’. The plot is a triumph of inconsequentiality of misunderstandings and all the trappings of triviality, misanthropes, quarrels, tricks, swordplay, swooning and punctured pride. The action gravitates around Mirandolina and the various commoners and aristocracy competing for her attention. It is Mirandolina who in grace and intelligence triumphs over the mountebanks, knaves and fools who are drawn to her.

This opera is a Rossinian buffo intermezzo mixed with poignant Mozartian elements from Cosi Fan Tutte and Nozze di Figaro. The score is strong on ensemble action in which lines weave and interact faultlessly and always with a smile. This opera bears the sort of comparison that can be made between Walton’s Troilus and Cressida and his The Bear; Die Tote Stadt and Korngold’s Der Ring des Polykrates; Pilgrim’s Progress and Vaughan Williams’ Sir John in Love and Poisoned Kiss. The opera reminds me strongly of Sir John in Love in its potent combination of serenade, bluff humour, trickery and rodomontade. I should also mention Smetana as a model for his Bartered Bride music is affectionately alluded to in the closing pages of Act III.

The cast has no weak links. Strongest of all is Daniela Bruera, the demands of whose taxing coloratura role she meets with vaunting and well-placed confidence. Frizza conveys the echt Martinů spirit. This is a live staged performance complete with the sound of movement, clomping about, applause, laughter and all the panoply of stagecraft. Only rarely does the live context cheat the players but one example is in the momentary sourness of the trumpet solo at 1.01 on tr. 5 CD2. Everyone seems well attuned to the essential kinship of this music to Cosi and Magic Flute. The Saltarello which divides Act II from Act III effervesces straight out of the dynamic pages of the Fourth Symphony and draws spontaneous applause.

The discs are liberally tracked so that each scene (of which there are 21 across the three acts), interlude, intermezzo and saltarello can easily be located and played. Track numbers are indicated in the libretto.

Mirandolina was premiered at the National Theatre, Prague on 17 May 1959, three months before Martinů’s death. The heroine was sung by Maria Tauberová.

The box comprises a double width jewel case holding the two CDs and the slimmer of the two booklets. The dumpy 240 page libretto sits alongside the case, all accommodated in a light card box. Eccentrically the libretto in the sung Italian takes up the first 49 pages. The remaining 190 pages present the libretto in English, German, French and Czech. This was the wrong choice for someone wanting to follow the goings-on closely even if doing anything else would have meant dropping one of the languages.

This box is for Martinů admirers and those who trace 20th century opera down a path which does not take itself over-seriously and yet which has heart and charm. An important set to add to Martinů’s growing representation in the catalogue.

Rob Barnett

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