The title of this opera always reminds me of Douglas Adams’s ‘Milliways’, but far from being about the restaurant at the end of the universe, Johann Samuel Müller’s libretto of Miriways
tells a story which involves the Pashtun emir Mirwais (1673-1715). This account turns Mirwais into the titular king of the opera, the story of which deals with the conquering of Persia and complicated romantic events in its capital city of Isfahan. After a good deal of intrigue and some remarkable revelations there is a happy ending and both love and royal power are united.
The typical synopsis of a baroque opera would usually be enough to put anyone off from the start, but if you set aside too much attention to the plot there is a great deal of fine music to be enjoyed here. The libretto is given in the booklet in German and English, so it’s fairly easy to follow the vocal parts and who is saying what to whom. Theater Magdeberg has brought together a strong cast for this production, and with support from the specialist L’Orfeo baroque orchestra you know this will have all of the transparency of sound, lightness of texture and freshness of energy you would expect from today’s authentic interpreters.
The crucial role of Miriways is taken by Markus Volpert, who is a safe pair of hands in this kind of repertoire – strong and masculine but projecting without histrionics. Volpert has worked with conductor Michi Gaigg before, and this team has been admired on these pages for their Mozart (see review
). Another central role is taken by Ulrike Hofbauer, who has a nice combination of desirable winsomeness and vulnerability as Sophi. I’m a little less keen on Julie Martin du Theil’s wobbly vibrato as Bemira, but this is more a question of taste than a technical criticism. For some reason the delivery of Stefan Zenkl as Murzah reminds me a little of actor Derek Nimmo – probably a reference only those of a certain nationality and generation will recall. Zenkl’s placement of notes is often just that little bit … late, if you know what I … mean.
With the subject matter and location of the action in this opera you would expect there to be a respectable amount of drums and percussion, but Telemann resists the urge to overdo these effects, and the opera as a whole follows the Italian models of the time more closely than you might expect. Indeed, the booklet notes suggest this is perhaps the most Italian of the composer’s existing operas, though not without a blend of German stylistic traditions.
There are some lovely highlights and gorgeous set pieces from Telemann, and I particularly like the simplicity of Nisibis’s aria Komm, sanfter Schlaft!
and the rhythmic quirks of Zemir’s Die Dankbarkeit
on CD 1, as well as the dance on track 4 and the Gravement
which concludes Act II on CD 2. There are also some fun surprises, like the cries of the choir in Feuer! Feuer!
and the perfectly timed stage cough which concludes it. Orchestration is a strong feature of Miriways
, with horns, flutes and other winds all adding to the colour and impact of the music. If you like Handelian touches then these are numerous in this opera. Everything is of supreme quality, even the predictably joyful tambourine-punctuated conclusion to the tale.