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Giovanni Simone MAYR (1763-1845)
Medea in Corinto (1813)
Creonte Roberto Lorenzi (bass)
Egeo Enea Scala (tenor)
Medea Davinia Rodriguez (soprano)
Giasone Michael Syres (tenor)
Creusa Mihaela Marcu (soprano)
Ismene Nozomi Kato (soprano)
Tideo Marco Stefani (tenor)
Evandro Sebastian Holecek (tenor)
Transylvania State Philharmonic Chorus, Orchestra Internationale d’Italia/Fabio Luisi
rec. August 2015, Valle d’Itria Festival, Italy
DYNAMIC CDS7735/1-2 [79:23 + 79:24]

The Valle d’Itria Festival in south-eastern Italy is an equivalent of other opera festivals, such as Holland Park in London or Wexford in Ireland, which specialise in reviving the fortunes of works which have not remained at the heart of the repertoire. This is a valuable service for opera lovers, but above all, for the operas themselves. It is one thing to read about operas which for one reason or another are not in today’s international repertoire, but it is quite another to hear them and see them in performance. Therefore it needs immediately be stated that this same performance on this well-filled pair of CDs from Dynamic is also available on DVD (Dynamic 37735) for a virtually identical price.

Giovanni Simon Mayr was a notable figure in his time. Born in Bavaria, he created an Italian equivalent of his original name (Johann Simon) when as a young man he settled at Bergamo. His operas made their mark and in the first quarter of the nineteenth century he was regarded as Rossini’s rival, his works performed across Europe. His influence extended in other directions besides, since he became the teacher of Gaetano Donizetti.

Medea in Corinto has a libretto by the great Felice Romani, and is constructed on an indulgent time-scale of more than two and half hours (plus intervals). Moreover there is more music than we hear in this performance, as reflected in the recording for Opera Rara with the excellent Jane Eaglen in the title role, and the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by David Parry (ORC 11). Sadly this is only available nowadays as a download, though an attractive highlights disc, focusing on Eaglen’s contribution, remains in the catalogue (ORR 215). Performance issues apart, one reason for seeking out this version over the new Dynamic issue is that its accompanying documentation is far stronger. The Dynamic issue has a nicely presented multi-language booklet with a substantial essay on the background to the opera, but sadly only a brief and inadequate synopsis of the plot. There is no libretto and a cursory search on line proved fruitless.

The opera actually has a complex performing history since, a decade after the Naples premiere, the composer was persuaded to modify his melodic style to allow for longer lyrical periods, and to change the cabalettas to suit the new team of singers. The modern trend has been to perform the original version, more or less, but exactly what Luisi chose to do is not clear. We should be told these things, of course, but we seldom are.

What, then, of the music and the performance? To begin with, there is a splendid sense of direction and musical pacing. Fabio Luisi conducts and he is one of the great conductors of our time. It is pleasing to find him supporting a project like this, and he secures excellent playing from the festival’s resident orchestra, known as the Orchestra Internationale d’Italia. They are supported by the Transylvanian State Philharmonic Chorus, who are splendid too.

The story by Euripides places a strong focus on the title character, and this role is well taken by Davinia Rodriguez. She is not as powerful as Jane Eaglen, but this is a live performance and she is well in command of the demands of the role, and paces herself successfully too. She is commanding when she needs to be, as in the demanding aria ‘Sommi dei’, with its concertante duet between voice and violin. At other times she is never less than sensitive to vocal nuances and melodic lines.

Another highlight of the performance is the contribution of the distinguished American tenor Michael Spyres in the role of Giasone, while among the other singers, Mihaela Marcu makes a delightful Creusa, very secure of tone, and Enea Scala is an elegant Egeo. The other singing roles are never less than adequately performed. Many of the vocal numbers are given extended and elaborate instrumental introductions, and these are beautifully played and sensitively shaped under Luisi’s direction.

The recorded sound is satisfactory without being either spectacular or especially atmospheric, and as so often in live opera performances it is a pity that the audience sometimes makes its presence felt in the wrong way. Why is it that people feel the need to applaud while the music is still in performance? Mayr’s score always sounds well, but perhaps those words reveal why this not one of the great operas. Everything is always fluent and sounds as though all is present and correct, but the score is seldom powerfully dramatic, given the unequivocal nature of the story. Luigi Cherubini’s version of 1797 is rather more stirring. As for this CD performance, for all its undoubted qualities, it is probably better to seek out its DVD equivalent so that the drama will make more sense, or to find the Opera Rara recording which has a full libretto with English translation.
Terry Barfoot



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