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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Simon MAYR (1763 – 1838)
Il sogno di Partenope - Cantata Opera for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1817)
Andrea Lauren Brown (soprano) – Partenope; Sara Hershkowitz (soprano) – Minerva; Caroline Adler (soprano) – Urania; Florence Lousseau (mezzo) – Tersicore; Cornel Frey (tenor) – Mercurio; Robert Sellier (tenor) – Apollo; Andreas Burkhart (bass) – Il Tempo
Members of the Bavarian State Opera Chorus, Simon Mayr Chorus and Ensemble/Franz Hauk
rec. Kongregationssaal, Neuburg an der Donau, Germany, 3-6 September 2012
Italian libretto and English and German translations are available online
NAXOS 8.573236 [65:56]

Readers may react to the classification “cantata opera”. It refers to a kind of work that was once quite common: a cantata staged for a specific occasion, a birthday or name day of a ruler. The intention was to glorify the person in question. The border-line between a “staged cantata” – the term seems to be Rossini’s – and an opera is hardly crystal clear. Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims could just as well have been called a 'staged cantata' – or 'cantata opera'.

Mayr’s Il sogno di Partenope was written for the consecration of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, which was destroyed by fire in February 1816. Eleven months later it was opened with a performance of Il sogno di Partenope, dedicated to King Ferdinand I on his birthday. It is a melodramma allegorico in which “gods, muses, genii and evil spirits /…/confront mankind with the cosmic principles” to quote Thomas Lindner’s liner-notes. The performance was a great success, which Stendhal, who was present, reported. To this the illustrious cast also contributed. Among the singers were Isabella Colbran in the title role and Giovanni Battista Rubini as Apollo. Unfortunately only the music of the second act survives and considering its high quality this is a tragic loss.

Having reviewed several recordings in Naxos’s continuing Mayr cycle I have invariably been impressed by the music; this issue is no exception. The overture is certainly vigorous with a dancing opening followed by a scherzo-like section which builds up an almost Rossinian crescendo. The opening chorus with a lovely soprano solo also carries the same stamp. There is quite a lot of recitativo that may be tiring for repeated listening, but those sections are separately banded and can be avoided. In between there are several good arias, a duet and a couple of quartets with chorus. The little chorus with harp and French horn (tr. 12) is a gem and so is the following long aria for Partenope with chorus. The short final chorus is also a fine achievement.

The singing of the chorus is excellent throughout; the orchestra likewise. I have nothing but praise for the soloists with an extra laurel to Andrea Lauren Brown’a Partenope and Cornel Frey’s expressive Mercurio.

While I still regret that the work is incomplete there is a lot of excellent music on offer in this world premiere recording. Readers who have invested in earlier issues in this series can safely buy this one too. Others who have so far hesitated should give it a try.

Göran Forsling



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