Johann Simon MAYR (1763-1845)
Medea in Corinto - Tragic Melodramma in two acts (1813)
Creonte, King of Corinth - Alastair Miles (bass); Egeo, Athenian King engaged to marry Creusa - Alek Schrader (tenor); Medea, sorceress and daughter of King Colcis - Nadja Michael (soprano); Glasone, her husband and Chief of the Argonauts - Ramůn Vargas (tenor); Creusa, daughter of the King of Corinth - Elena Issalagova (soprano); Evandro - Kenneth Robertson (tenor); Tideo - Francesco Petrozzi (baritone); Ismene - Laura Nicorescu (mezzo)
Bavarian State Orchestra and Chorus/Ivor Bolton
Stage Director: Hans Neuenfels. Set Designer: Anna Viebrock. Costume Designer: Elina Schnizer
rec. live, National Theatre, Munich, 2010,
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DD 5.0. Picture Format: NTSC/16:9
Region Code: 0
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese and Korean
Booklet essay and synopsis in English, French and German
ARTHAUS MUSIK BLU-RAY 108 030 [151:00 + 48:00]

German-born Mayr was studying in Italy when his patron died. Faced with an uncertain future the composer Niccolo Piccinni encouraged him to write opera. Mayrís first opera, Saffo (1794), attracted other commissions. His Ginevra di Scozia premiered in Trieste (1801) made him known throughout Italy. Subsequently Mayr wrote operas for Naples, Rome, Milan and Venice and they were also performed in Germany, London, St. Petersburg and New York. In all he wrote over sixty operatic works, many in the buffo style. He brought increased vividness and orchestral detail to opera buffa, with depictions of storms, earthquakes and the like as well as complex choral scenes. These built on, and extended, the compositional style of Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801) and Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816). His influence is readily heard in the operas of Rossini (1792-1868) and Donizetti (1797-1848) in particular.

As well as composition of operas, Mayr found fame as a composer of church music, as the author of a treatise on Haydn and as the founder of a conservatory in Bergamo where his students included Donizetti whom he taught without charge for ten years. Mayr also paid for Donizettiís study with Padre Mattei a renowned teacher of counterpoint. He later also ceded commissions to his pupil that helped his career to take off. Mayrís most famous work is his Medea in Corinto (1813). He eventually went blind and Verdi, recognising his influence on Italian music, perhaps even his own, attended his funeral. According to the booklet essay (p.8) Verdi gave the oration. Mayrís main works can be said to unite the stylistic characteristics of Viennese classicism with Italian melodic exuberance. Although his music is largely forgotten today all the major European theatres saw productions during his lifetime.

For a long time, the only operas by Mayrís featured on records were Ginevra di Scozia and Medea in Corinto, each issued by Opera Rara on three CDs. The former (ORC 11) was recorded at a revival in Trieste to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the premiere. It features Elizabeth Vidal and Daniella Barcelona among the principals. The latter (ORC 23) has the spinto soprano Jane Eaglen alongside Opera Rara regulars and the Rossini specialist Raul Gimenez. There is also an extracts disc from this issue focusing on Eaglen (ORR 215). In 2008, Opera Rara also issued a CD entitled Mayr Rediscovered (ORR 244) involving excerpts from eight of his operas including the two mentioned as well as Fedra, a recording of which was issued by Oehms Classics. This was derived from performances in the State Theatre Braunschweig during performances in March 2008 (see review). Interest in the composer and his works has been stimulated by the establishment of the International Simon Mayr Society in Ingolstadt in 1995. This was to mark the 150th anniversary of the composerís death. The Society numbers among its objects bringing his operas before the public and the production of Critical Editions such as that used here. The year 2010 has seen at least two productions of this opera: the other being at St Gallen in Switzerland (Opera Magazine. April 2010, p.451). This recording, issued on DVD and Blu-Ray, claims to be a world premiere filming of one of Mayrís operas.

Mayrís Medea In Corinto is based on the ancient tragedy of the eponymous sorceress who kills her children in a mad act of blind revenge against their father, her faithless husband Giasone (Jason). Director Hans Neuenfels believes the story deals with timeless subjects and stages this tragedy of betrayed love, lust for power and murderous hatred as a socio-political thriller updated to the present day. Typical of the anti-traditional regietheater Munich productions the controversial director interweaves scenes of seemingly gratuitous brutality. Designer Anna Viebrock's stage is set on two levels, allowing a mixture of realities. The costumes range in period from Hymeniaos in green tights to the mythological appearance of a prancing constantly grinning Amour with two incongruous silver wings on his back. The ladies are in knee length modern-day haute couture, or at least the Primark version, with hats that might require extra security checks at your local airport. For the men lounge suits are generally sufficient for carrying pistols and the knives for cutting throats. Situations, rather than specific time-frames, are what seems important to Neuenfels.

Mayrís justifiable claim to fame rather than neglect arises from his skilled orchestration. The music of the opera is full of melodic inspiration, and his use of text is exemplary with orchestration that moves significantly beyond Gluck, who one senses, is an influence. The arias are in the bel canto tradition with plenty of space for decoration. Looking at the cast of the premiere in Naples and seeing the names of Isabella Colbran in the title role, the baritonal tenor Andrea Nozzari as Giasone and the lighter-toned coloratura tenor Manuel Garcia as Egeo one has a sense of the musical demands on at least some of the principals. The heaviest singing load in terms of musical and histrionic demand is to be found in the title role. Munich has it absolutely right in casting Nadja Michael. She has the soprano extension required but added to strength in the lower, mezzo part of the voice, as one might expect in a singer assaying that fach not so long ago. Her entrance aria (CHs 8-10) and mini mad scene as Medea contemplates the killing of her children (CH.33) are sung and acted with rare conviction. For me the choice of Ramůn Vargas for the role of Giasone seemed strange. I had never thought of him as a baritonal tenor, particularly having seen him as Don Ottavio only recently in the Metropolitan Opera transmission of Don Giovanni; Ottavio is a role whose vocal requirements are the antithesis of baritonal with floated notes the order of the day particularly in Dala sua pace. Vargas certainly copes well, and seemingly without undue vocal strain with the wide tessitura albeit his acting is not in the same league as his Medea. A pleasing discovery for me is to be heard in the singing of Alek Shrader as Egeo, the suitor of Creusa who has been promised to Giasone by her father Creonte, played here as a hunchback by Alastair Miles. Shraderís plangent well articulated tone and fluent coloratura in the demanding tessitura bodes well (CHs. 23-14 and 27); I look forward to hearing him again.

Of the Corinthian contingent, Alastair Miles creates a mean old king with his lean bass and committed acting. The role does not have its own aria. As his daughter Creusa, Elena Issalagova looked more the part in her smart outfits. Contrast this with her singing that is secure rather than characterful; still, better that way round. To finish my comments on a wholly positive note: I commend the superb orchestral contribution by early music expert Ivor Bolton moving up a generation or three. He does Mayr proud, as does the violinist who accompanies Medea on stage (CH.10) as the sorceress divests herself of her rush skirt and bodice baubles, to leave herself, for most of the remainder of the opera, in a neat black number in the form of her underskirt!

The accompanying booklet has full chapter details and timings. Regrettably these are for the DVD format rather than the dual layer Blu-Ray format, but the numbering for the latter is in sequence from the end of act one. There is an interesting essay in English, French and German; likewise a synopsis. There is no explanation as to the overture at Chapter 7 (3:14) complete with a visual announcement: This is the end of the overture.

The bonus interviews are interesting even if Vargas mixes up the tenors from the premiere. He refers to Manuel Garcia as the creator of the role of Giasone. In fact Manuel Garcia created the role of Egeo not Giasone. Garcia also created the role of Norfolk in Rossiniís first opera seria for Naples, Elisabetta regina díInghilterra (4 October 1815) and Almaviva in the composerís consummate opera buffa Il Barbiere di Siviglia premiered in Rome the following February. As well as his own skills Garcia is famous as the father of Maria Malibran. Andrťa Nozzari created the role of Giasone with his distinctive baritonal range and tenor coloratura. He also created roles in all nine of the opera seria Rossini wrote for Naples.

Robert J Farr

Arresting music for the bel canto enthusiast.