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Johann Simon MAYR (1763-1845)
Ginevra di Scozia - Opera seria in two acts (1801)
Ginevra, daughter of the King of Scotland - Myrtò Papatanasiu (soprano); Ariodante, an Italian soldier prince, betrothed to Ginevra - Anna Bonitatibus (mezzo); Dalinda, attendant on Ginevra, secretly in love with Polinesso - Magdalena Hinterdobler (soprano); Polinesso, Duke of Albany, Ariodante's rival – Mario Zeffiri (tenor); Lurcanio, Ariodante's brother - Stefanie Irányi (mezzo); King of Scotland - Peter Schöne (bass); Vafrino, Ariodante's squire – Marco Cilic (tenor); Il Gran Solitario - Damiano Locatelli
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/George Petrou
rec. live, Teatro Nuovo, Trieste, 21-23 April 2013
Full libretto in Italian only
OEHMS CLASSICS OC960 [3 CDs: 55.45 + 61.42 + 53.08]

An opera in two acts, Simon Mayr’s Ginevra di Scozia uses Antonio Salvi's libretto Ginevra, principessa di Scozia, which derives from Cantos 5 and 6 of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. It was specifically commissioned from Mayr for, and premiered at, a gala performance on 21 April 1801 at the Regio Teatro Nuovo in Trieste to celebrate the inauguration of the new theatre. This live recording is taken from a performance in that same theatre to celebrate the two hundredth and tenth anniversary of the occasion.

The premiere performance of Ginevra di Scozia utilised two castrati in male roles, not uncommon at the time, albeit a practise on its last legs as indicated by the fact that Rossini only ever used that voice type in his twelfth opera, Aureliano in Palmira, premiered in Milan in December 1813 (see review). Handel also utilised two castrati in his version of the story, Ariodante, premiered in London in 1735. In the 2015 Welsh National Opera’s updated version of the story of the related Orlando the roles of Orlando and Medoro were sung by counter-tenors, as is now often the case, rather than mezzo-sopranos en travesti (see review). In this recording, as with that by Opera Rara, the roles of Ariodante and his brother Lurcanio are sung by mezzo-sopranos.

The recording on this issue is of good standard and with imperceptible audience noise except for applause at the end of acts. The singing of Myrtò Papatanasiu is warm-toned whilst at the same time coping with the demands of the tessitura, as does Anna Bonitatibus as Ariodante. The two singing together in the concluding happy ending finale (CD3. Tr. 9) is a delight. Stefanie Irányi, as Lurcanio, Ariodante's brother, also sings and characterises well in the lesser mezzo part. Mario Zeffiri as Polinesso, Ariodante's rival and the baddy of the story, is more pleasing in tone than his recorded rival without altogether excising thoughts of lyric coloratura tenors who would be more vocally even and flexible in the higher tessitura. Peter Schöne as the King of Scotland, is steady but would benefit from greater sonority. On the rostrum George Petrou does justice to Mayr’s music whilst handling the frequent recitative passages without letting them seem to drag.

It is a pity, given the scarcity of operas by Mayr available on CD or video, that this issue competes with that from Opera Rara and where, in terms of presentation, it fails abysmally. As always with Opera Rara, that label boasts a very elaborate booklet, with a lengthy essay on the opera by Jeremy Commons and a libretto with English translations. In this issue there is no translation of the libretto the continuity of which is broken by German text of what I assume are stage directions. Also, the brief act-by-act synopsis, given in German and English, would have benefited significantly by being track-related. These matters significantly undermine the virtues of this issue.

Appendix: Johann Simon Mayr - teacher, composer and mentor
A native of Bavaria, Mayr was studying in Italy when his patron died. Accomplished on several instruments, and faced with an uncertain future, another composer encouraged him to write opera, there being plenty of work available in the many theatres of Italy. Mayr’s first opera, Saffo (1794) presented during the Carnival at La Fenice, Venice, attracted other commissions. Ginevra di Scozia, premiered in Trieste (1801), made him known throughout the peninsula and established Mayr in the front-line of Italian opera composers. The work retained a presence in Italian theatres for over thirty years. During those three decades of fame, some of Italy's most celebrated singers appeared in this opera. Opera Rara's 2001 revival (ORC23) was recorded live in the revision by Marco Beghelli. As with this Oehms issue, that recoridng was made in Trieste where the opera had been premiered in 1801.

Subsequently, Mayr wrote operas for Naples, Rome, Milan and Venice with his works also being performed in Germany, London, St. Petersburg and New York among other places. In all, Mayr, like his pupil Donizetti, wrote over sixty operatic works, many in the buffo manner.

In musical style Mayr brought more vividness and orchestral detail to opera buffa in particular 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) whose influence can also be heard in the use of recitative in Ginevra di Scozia. Mayr’s hand can be readily discerned in the operas of both Rossini and Donizetti and, to a lesser degree, Bellini. Like those bel canto composers Mayr demanded a wide vocal range from his singers that would have suited Rossini’s staff singers at Naples and Bellini’s I Puritani quartet as they toured the work world-wide. Although his works are largely forgotten today, all major theatres in Europe played them during his lifetime.

As well as operas, Mayr found fame as a composer of church music, as author of a treatise on Haydn and the founding of a Conservatory in Bergamo where his students included Donizetti. Generous to a fault, Mayr taught him without charge for ten years and further, paid for his study with Padre Mattei, a renowned teacher of counterpoint. If that were not enough Mayr generously ceded commissions to his pupil that helped his pupil’s career to take off.

Today Mayr’s most famous work is his Medea in Corinto of 1813 and recorded by Opera Rara (ORC11). Mayr eventually went blind and Verdi, recognising his influence on Italian music, perhaps even his own, attended his funeral and gave the oration. A hither-unknown Mayr opera, Fedra, was discovered among Verdi’s papers after his death. Rossini’s operas after Tancredi and L’Italiana in Algeri in 1813 created an almost insatiable appetite among audiences for tonal brilliance and rhythmic energy. This popularity had a deleterious effect on Mayr’s commissions. ('Donizetti and his Operas', William Ashbrook. C.U.P. 1983 p.215). He tragically became blind for most of the last twenty years of his life. By the time of the composition of his final opera, Demetrio (1824), Mayr had composed over sixty operas, just as had his pupil Donizetti.

For a long time, it seemed that the only operas by Mayr’s featured, or easily available on record, were Ginevra di Scozia (ORC23) and Medea in Corinto (ORC11), each issued by Opera Rara on three CDs. The former was recorded at a revival in Trieste to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the premiere and featured Elizabeth Vidal and Daniella Barcelona among the principals. The latter, has the spinto soprano Jane Eaglen alongside Opera Rara regulars and the Rossini specialist Raul Gimenez. Oehms has also recorded Mayr’s Fedra (review), La Lodaiska (OC 954), Medea (OC 933) and Demetrio, Re Re di Siria (OC 958). Medea in Corinto has made it onto Blu-ray and DVD (review).

Robert J Farr


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