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Simon MAYR (1763-1845)
Tobiae matrimonium (1794) [95.19]
Raguel – Judith Spiesser (soprano)
Anna – Margriet Buchberger (soprano)
Sara – Cornelia (soprano)
Tobias – Stefanie Iranyi (mezzo)
Archangel Raphael – Susanne Bernhard (soprano)
Simon Mayr Chorus and Ensemble/Franz Hauk (director and harpsichord)
rec. 14-18 July 2007, Assam church of Maria de Victoria, Ingolstadt, Germany
NAXOS 8.570752-53 [56.36 + 38.43] 
Experience Classicsonline

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.

And 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. 

In 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. 

Act 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. 

But 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. 

This 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. 

The 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. 

Generally 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. 

Franz 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. 

The 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. 

This 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.

Robert Hugill




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