Johann Simon MAYR (1763 – 1845)
Dramma per musica in tre atti (1797)
Telemaco – Siri Karoline Thornhill (soprano)
Calipso – Andrea Lauren Brown (soprano)
Eucari – Jaewon Yun (soprano)
Mentore – Markus Schäfer (tenor)
Sacerdote di Venere – Katharina Ruckgaber (soprano)
Sacerdote di Bacco – Niklas Mallmann (bass)
Members of the Bavarian State Opera Chorus, Simon Mayr Chorus
Concerto de Bassus/Franz Hauk
rec. Kongregationssaal, Neuburg, Germany, August/September 2015
The Italian libretto can be accessed online
NAXOS 8.660388-89 [72:44 + 63:07]
Telemaco – in Greek Telemachus – is a character featured in Homer’s Odyssey. He is the son of Odysseus and Penelope and is brought up by his mother when Odysseus is away in the Trojan War. He is unable to protect his mother from the suitors that try to win her and sets off to search for his father accompanied by his mentor Mentore. In 1699 François Fénelon, Archbishop of Cambrai, wrote a didactic novel, Les aventures de Télémaque (The Adventures of Telemachus) which was a sequel to Homer’s epic. This story attracted during the 18th century the interest of a number of opera composers, including André Cardinal Destouches (1714), Alessandro Scarlatti (1718), Christoph Willibald Gluck (1765), Giuseppe Gazzaniga (1776), Jean-François Le Sueur (1796), Fernando Sor (1797) and the same year Simon Mayr. Excerpts from Scarlatti’s, Gluck’s and Sor’s operas are available on various recital discs, but only Mayr is represented by a complete recording, which of course is a World Premiere Recording – almost everything issued by him is new to the catalogues.
We need not bother very much about the plot, but readers should know that there is a very detailed synopsis in the booklet with track numbers for every recitative and every aria – a model for how to present an unfamiliar music-dramatic work. For those with good knowledge of Italian, the libretto is also available online. Mayr, here in his mid-thirties and a fully developed professional, shows his prowess as an orchestrator immediately in the sinfonia, with dark forebodings – Telemaco’s adventures are far from uplifting. This feeling is swept away pretty soon when the tone lightens and the music dances with high woodwinds dominating the score. A bit into the first act, when Calipso, the goddess, who was rejected by Telemaco’s father, in revenge magics up a violent storm that shipwrecks Telemaco’s vessel, the music depicting this is not as formidable as one could wish, but it is expressive anyway.
The drama is carried forward through recitatives interspersed with arias and choruses. There are a few ensembles: the first act ends with a trio, in the second act there is a quartet with chorus, a sextet with chorus, a trio with chorus and the finale of the act is a duet. In the final act there is a duet but the finale is, quite unusually, an aria where Calipso, who is the big loser, ‘curses her immortality and bewails her eternal despair’, as the synopsis puts it. It is a moving end indeed. The recitatives are partly secco recitatives with harpsichord but in several places long stretches of recitatives with orchestra are woven together in dramatic scenes, very effectively and the chorus is very much to the fore, sometimes as duet partners in arias. One such confrontation is when Telemaco finds that his companions have survived but that Mentore is missing and the people of Ithaca suggest that he has drowned (CD 1 tr. 13). There are several dramatic and powerful arias, many of them rather brief, but also a couple of beautiful cavatinas for Telemaco. Bella Dea, de’ Numi amore (CD 1 tr. 20) he sings in the first act and in the second La bella età d’amore (CD 2 tr. 4).Just before that Mentore also has a cavatina, L’alloro guerriero (CD 2 tr. 2) where an oboe dialogues with him, also very typical for Mayr. Calipso’s aria a little later in this act, A languir tra pianti, e lai (CD 2 tr. 10) is worth seeking out both for the aria per se and for the excellent singing. On the whole there are very good arias in abundance in this opera – and we shouldn’t forget the ensembles, where the finales of both act I and II are outstanding. For musical reasons this recording is well worth acquiring and the dramatic layout is fully worthy of the occasion.
The performances of the music is also in good hands. Franz Hauk’s commitment in his indefatigable striving to revive Simon Mayr’s music is always strongly felt and his forces are just as committed. The Bavarian State Opera Chorus and his own Simon Mayr Chorus have participated in most of his recordings and are a well-known quantity by now. Concerto de Bassus, on the other hand, is a new acquaintance. It is an international ensemble of young musicians engaged in historical performances, many of the musicians have connections with the University of Music and Performing Arts in Munich.
Most of the soloists are well-known from previous issues in this series. Norwegian soprano Siri Karoline Thornhill is a superb Telemaco with a large dramatic voice and she negotiates the technical demands, including elegant embellishments, with real flair. No less accomplished is American Andrea Lauren Brown who impresses greatly as Calipso: powerful, expressive and beautiful tone. Both have been heard in leading roles before. Jaewon Yun, born in South Korea, took part in Saffo, reviewed a year ago and she is a wonderful Eucari and is the one who opens the proceedings with a good aria, excellently sung. Markus Schäfer, with a career of 30 years behind him, has retained his smooth lyric tenor and added some dramatic weight, while still tossing off some clean coloratura singing in his aria in the third act. Katharina Ruckgaber has participated in half a dozen Mayr recordings and is here heard in the small role of Sacerdote di Venere (Priest of Venus). Her aria at the beginning of act II is beautifully sung. The only soloist not previously heard in connection with Mayr is the young Niklas Mallmann, whose sonorous lyric bass is heard to good effect in the Priest of Bacchus’ aria in act II.
Readers who are following this fascinating series will no doubt want this latest issue as well, and those who haven’t yet dared to approach Mayr’s music will not be disappointed. Another feather in the cap for Franz Hauk and his circle of collaborators.