Mayr's Tobiae matrimonium (The Marriage of Tobias)
seems to have received its first performance in 1794 in Venice,
performed by the Ospedale dei Mendicanti. Like the Pieta, which
is well known for its association with Vivaldi, the Mendicanti
trained its young female inhabitants in music. In 1794 there were
18 choir girls, six teachers along with eight paid girls; such
was the reputation of the Venetian Ospedale that girls paid to
receive a musical education. Oratorio seems to have been a popular
genre in the Ospedale; at Easter 1794 the Mendicanti performed
an oratorio by Anfossi.
the subject of Tobias, which comes from the apocrypha, seems
to have been a popular one too. Four on the same topic are
known to have been written for the Mendicanti, one by an unknown
composer in 1723, Bertoni's Tobias of 1773, Anfossi's
Tobias of 1780 and Mayr's setting of the story. In
addition Galuppi set a cantata text by Gozzi in 1782 and Paer
wrote a cantata for the Mendicanti in 1795.
most Tobias stories, it is Tobias's return home and healing
of his father, along with his companion's revelation that
he is an angel, which form the central drama of the oratorio.
But not for Mayr and his librettist Foppa. They chose to concentrate
on Tobias's marriage to Sara. Sara's seven previous husbands
have all been killed by a demon. But Tobias marries her, armed
with the knowledge passed on from his companion - the archangel
Raphael in disguise - as to how to drive out demons.
1 introduces the characters and ends with Sara's father agreeing
to their marriage. Act 2, which is somewhat shorter, covers
the wedding night, the banishing of the demon and general
celebration. Foppa's libretto sticks fairly closely to the
biblical text, with only a few expansions and theatrical devices.
In a real comic opera, Foppa would have undoubtedly expanded
the dramatic sections such as the banishing of the demon,
which here covers a remarkably short time.
Mayr seems to have decided that he was writing a comic opera,
there is no sense of oratorio like sobriety and the handling
of the story reminds me of the lighter sections in works like
Handel's Susanna. Mayr sets the piece for five high
voices - four sopranos and one mezzo-soprano - with a Sara's
father Raguel being played by a soprano.
is a delightful work and listening to it you can easily forget
its oratorio origins, except for the fact that text is in
Latin. Mayr writes a sequence of recitatives, arias, accompagnatos
and ensembles that cry out to be performed on the operatic
stage. There is a chorus, but its use is severely limited,
with choruses opening and closing the acts. Mayr's vocal writing
is quite operatic, with elaborate vocal lines.
cast, under Franz Hauk, respond magnificently. The recording
is based on forces from Ingoldstadt, who have contributed
other Mayr recordings on Naxos. All five young singers are highly commendable and deal with Mayr's
more elaborate passage-work in neat, bravura fashion. Judith
Spiesser is firm voiced as Raguel, Sara's father, though inevitably
she sounds in no way masculine. Anna, Raguel's wife, is the
dignified Margriet Buchberger with Cornelia Hauk as Sara,
their daughter. Hauk has a very personable voice with a slight
mezzo-ish cast to it. Tobias is played in dignified fashion
by Stefanie Iranyi, and her firm voiced control does not shirk
when it comes to the more elaborate passages. Tobias and Sara's
duets are a total delight. Finally we have Susanne Bernhard
as a bright toned Archangel Raphael.
the cast respond well to the music, though there are odd moments
when it is obvious that slightly too much care is being taken
with the vocal lines. This, however, in no way inhibits the
charm which characterises this performance.
Hauk directs with a firm but gentle hand, getting decent performances
out of his choir and orchestra. Hauk has prepared the performing
edition for this performance, having done quite a bit of detective
work to track down the overture.
booklet includes four different articles, covering the music
and the historical background. These are all interesting and
illuminating, but better editing would have prevented the
same information being duplicated in different articles. The
synopsis is not quite as detailed, track by track, as is usual
with Naxos and interested listeners would be well
advised to download the libretto from the Naxos web site.
is a charming piece, charmingly performed. It is by no means
a masterpiece, but if you view it as a comic opera manqué,
then it is a delight.