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Simon MAYR (1763–1845)
L'Amor coniugale (1805) [82.57]
Zeliska/Malvino – Cinzia Rizzone (soprano)
Amorveno – Francescantonio Bille (tenor)
Floreska – Tatjana Charalgina (soprano)
Peters – Dariusz Machej (bass)
Moroski – Giovanni Bellavia (bass-baritone)
Ardelao – Bradley Trammell (tenor)
Wurttemburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Franklin
rec. live, 19, 21, 23 July 2004, Kursaal, Bad Wildbad, Germany. DDD
NAXOS 8.660198-99 [43.49 + 39.08]
Experience Classicsonline

Mayr's L'Amor coniugale belongs to a group of Mayr's operas in which the composer re-vitalised the Italian opera seria tradition. It belongs to the opera semi-seria genre, in which the flexible plot-driven opera buffa collides with the opera seria. It is a genre which we associate with Rossini but it was in fact Mayr who was influential in genre before Rossini. Mayr's musical language includes elements, such as the crescendo and characteristic rhythmic patterns, which Rossini would go on to make his own.
Mayr wrote the opera in 1805 and it was premièred in Padua. It takes as the subject of its libretto a French opera Leonore, ou L'Amour conjugal by Pierre Gaveaux which was premièred in 1798. Two other operas were based on the subject, Paer's Leonora ossia L'amore coniugale (premiered in 1804) and Beethoven's Leonore (premiered in Vienna in 1805). Beethoven's opera would eventually become Fidelio.
The plot of Mayr's opera is in fact pretty similar to Beethoven's, though some compression has occurred. Mayr's opera is billed as a one act farsa sentimentale and it is in tone in which the two operas differ. Mayr's opera lacks the intensity and seriousness of Beethoven's.
Mayr's librettist, Gaetano Rossi, relocated the action to 17th century Poland, a popular exotic-operatic location used in both Cherubini and Mayr's Lodoiska operas. So Leonore/Fidelio becomes Zeliska/Malvino, her husband becomes Amorveno, his jailer Peters and Peters daughter Floreska. Pizzaro becomes Moroski, Jaquino is omitted and Don Fernando becomes Amorvino's brother Ardelao.
The recording comes from the admirable Rossini in Wildbad festival, which has been the source of recordings of a number of early Italian rarities recently. Here a strong cast - three Italians, a Russian, a Pole and an American - are directed by Christopher Franklin with the Wurttemberg Philharmonic Orchestra.
The opening scenes are all light comedy in which Floreska (Tatjana Charalgina) flirts with Malvino/Zeliska (Cinzia Rizzone). Floreska's father, Peters (Dariusz Machej) is in favour of a match but Malvino puts things off.
Charalgina has an attractively bright Slav soprano voice and her Floreska is attractive and suitably pert. Rizzone is an equally attractive Zeliska; her voice tends to have slightly too much vibrato in the upper register but she is profoundly appealing in her only aria. Machej has a pleasant grainy voice and he succeeds in making Peters a personable, Figaro-like character.
Halfway through the opera, after Zeliska's aria, the atmosphere changes. The setting moves to Amorveno's prison cell and he has a long scena and aria - over 9 minutes of solo music - with a substantial sombre instrumental introduction. Francescantonio Bille has an open Italianate voice and makes Amorveno a personable rather than a tragic character.
The main problem with the drama is that Moroski, the prison governor, is not a strongly drawn role and Giovanni Bellavia's performance is rather low key.
Most of the cast treat Mayr's fioriture in a rather sketchy, sometimes smudgy manner. Given the strength of the performances this is not a disaster, but it is a shame that they could not have delivered the vocal lines in a slightly cleaner manner.
The Wurttemburg Philharmonic provide strong support and give good account of the solo opportunities that Mayr gives them. Mayr's German background meant that he brought new colours and treatments to the orchestra in Italian opera and the Wurttemburgers relish this.
The CD booklet contains a good article about Mayr and the opera, plus a synopsis but there is no libretto, which is something of a drawback in an unknown opera. You can get the Italian libretto from Naxos's web site.
Whilst L'Amor coniugale is not a masterpiece, it is a strong and interesting work, and one which sheds a revealing light on the development of Italian opera just before Rossini.
Robert Hugill


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