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Johann Simon MAYR (1763 – 1845)
I Cherusci, Dramma per musica in due atti (1808)
Treuta – Markus Schäfer (tenor)
Tusnelda – Yvonne Prentki (soprano)
Tamaro – Andrea Lauren Brown (soprano)
Zarasto – Andreas Mattersberger (bass)
Ercilda – Katharina Konradi (soprano)
Carilo – Uwe Gottswinter (tenor)
Dunclamo – Harald Thum (tenor)
Un Araldo – Markus Zeitler (tenor)
Members of the Bavarian State Opera Chorus, Simon Mayr Chorus
Concerto de Bassus/Franz Hauk (harpsichord)
rec. 2016, Kongreationssaal, Neuburg an der Donau, Germany
No libretto supplied, only a brief synopsis in the booklet
Premiere Recording
NAXOS 8.660399-400 [71:38 + 81:24]

When Mayr’s I Cherusci was premiered at the Teatro Argentina in Rome during the carnival 1808, Napoleon’s armies were gushing forth mercilessly through Europe and the libretto of the opera with its setting of merciless warfare between ancient Germanic tribes around the time of the birth of Christ was certainly hot stuff. The situation is as follows: A confederacy led by Treuta, King of the Marcomanni, has defeated the Cherusci after a lengthy series of battles, but the King’s only daughter has been caught by the enemy. He is very sad. A Cheruscan slave girl, Tusnelda, who has been captured by the Marcomanni, is to be sacrificed to the god of war, Mars. Treuta doesn’t want any more bloodshed, he only wishes peace and freedom and wants so save the girl. Tamaro arrives from the Cherusci camp and asks Treuta to release Tusnelda, who is his beloved. Treuta has in the meantime become fond of the slave girl and hidden her in order to help her flee. Then an emissary from the Cherusci camp with a necklace which proves that Tusnelda is the daughter of Treuta. But the high priest Zarasto is just preparing to carry through the sacrifice of Tusnelda … The finale becomes a thriller!

It is interesting to realise that another humanist and freedom fighter had been working on an opera with the same motto at about the same time – and continued to do so for another half decade: Ludwig van Beethoven. The first version of what is generally known as Leonore, was first seen at the Theater an der Wien in November 1805, but was reworked and foreshortened and finally produced in 1814 as Fidelio in the shape we know it today. Napoleon may not have bothered much about these two operas – if he knew about them at all – but it was still an act of bravery from Beethoven and Mayr to stick out their necks at the time in question.

The opening sinfonia is surprisingly lively and entertaining, considering the serious drama that is to follow. Here the music almost bubbles over with high spirits, and as usual Mayr spices his brew with good helpings of wind solos. When the curtain opens there are fanfares and the chorus enters and now there is martial atmosphere. Zarasto, the high priest, makes his entrance, accompanied by organ, and we hear an impressive basso cantante, Andreas Mattersberger. His aria La pietade col nemico (CD 1 tr. 10), halfway through the first act is warmly sung with healthy tone. He sounds almost too noble for such an evil character. Having attended master classes with Robert Holl and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and since 2005 being trained by Brigitte Fassbaender his future seems well catered for. The lyric coloratura soprano Yvonne Prentki as Tusnelda is another new acquaintance who impresses in her cavatina Eccomi a voi (CD 1 tr. 8) with brilliant height, and later on in ensembles and duets, not least in the duet Vanne pur (CD 2 tr. 5) with Trauta, with woodwind accompaniment. Katharina Konradi is also a new name in Franz Hauk’s stable, and she is excellent in Ercilda’s aria Se pietosi o giusti Nume (CD 1 tr. 17), which in effect is a duet with the French horn – one of the finest numbers in this work. Tenor Uwe Gottswinter, who attended master classes with Brigitte Fassbaender and Christoph Prégardien, is an expressive singer but maybe too weak for the martial aria Fosca nube in ciel minaccia (CD 2 tr. 11) with timpani and wind.

Well-known regulars in this Mayr series are tenor Markus Schäfer and soprano Andrea Lauren Brown as Treuta and Tamaro respectively. They are heard together in the duet Mia non è! (CD 1 tr. 15), also one of the highlights. Schäfer makes his first entrance in a long aria with chorus, Fra noi ritorni il giubilo – Sortita: Al valor (CD 1 tr. 5) where he handles the abundant florid singing with elegance. Andrea Lauren Brown on the other hand has two great solos: Ecco, o fidi il soggiotno … Paventi quell tiranno (CD 1 tr. 11-12) in the first act, and Ove son! ... Ombra dolente e pallida (CD 2 tr. 8-9) in the second, the latter aria with harp and woodwind. That instrumental combination is again heard in the very last scene (CD 2 tr. 20). Mayr’s orchestration is as always inventive.

Readers who have so far avoided Mayr’s operas should perhaps start with Saffo (review), which my colleague David Chandler made a Recording of the Month, but collectors of this series can invest with confidence in this latest issue.

Göran Forsling



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