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Giovanni Simone MAYR (1763 – 1845)
Che originali! Farsa per musica (1798)
Don Febeo – Bruno de Simone
Donna Aristea – Chiara Amarù
Don Carolino – Leonardo Cortellazzi
Donna Rosina – Angela Nisi
Biscroma – Omar Montanari
Celestina – Gioia Crepaldi
Carluccio – Pietro Di Bianco
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848)
Pigmalione Scena lirica (1816)
Pigmalione – Antonino Siragusa
Galatea – Aya Wakizono
Orchestra dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala/Gianluca Capuano
rec. 2017, Festival Donizetti, Teatro Sociale, Bergamo, Italy
Libretto with English translations enclosed
World Premiere Recording
DYNAMIC CDS7811.2 [65:48 + 73:04]

To juxtapose two operas by Giovanni Simone Mayr and Gaetano Donizetti is no random whim but very logical since Mayr was the teacher and Donizetti his favourite pupil. Mayr was highly regarded in his day as composer of both operas and sacred music but fell out of fashion when Rossini entered the stage, but since he was granted a long life he was able to witness the successes of his pupil.

Pigmalione was however not one of them. It was a student’s work, composed in two weeks when Donizetti was only nineteen. It was never performed during his lifetime, nor did he include it in the catalogue of his works. It was not unearthed until 1960 when it was premiered at Teatro delle Novità in Bergamo. It is a short work, rather a cantata for tenor and soprano, and the latter only appears in the very last scene. The story is based on Greek mythology and was first told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book X. Pygmalion is a sculptor and he makes a statue in ivory of his ideal of a woman. He names it Galatea and falls in love with it, whereupon Venus brings the statue to life. The story became popular in the 1770s through a play by Rousseau. It was translated into Italian by Tommaso Grandi and staged in Venice. Simeone Antonio Sografi wrote a libretto that was set twice in the 1790s and the same libretto, with some modifications, was used by Donizetti. George Bernard Shaw drew upon the same myth when he created his play Pygmalion, first seen in Vienna in 1913. Shaw in his turn was inspired by a popular play by W. S. Gilbert, Pygmalion and Galatea (1871), and in 1956 Shaw’s play provided the libretto for Lerner and Loewe’s Broadway success My Fair Lady.

The half-hour-long Pigmalione has no overture but a short orchestral introduction. Then Pigmalione tells the audience of his lack of power in a recitative, followed by a rather florid aria. The singer, Antonino Siragusa, has had a fairly long career in lyrical roles like Don Ottavio, Nemorino, Almaviva, Ernesto and Elvino (La sonnambula) and of late added some Verdi roles as well: Fenton, Alfredo and the Duke of Mantua, but even this light repertoire has obviously taken its toll. The tone is pinched and rather hard but he is expressive and, vocally at least, a good actor. The highlight here is the aria Voi che lo stato mio (tr. 6), where Pigmalione turns to the gods for help and complains: “I only yearn for death. I am desperate, I am in love with my own work.” This is the turning point. When he looks at the statue he sees that she has come to life! This aria points forward to some of Donizetti’s many lovely arias to come, and it is sung with excellent nuances but the tone is still hard and blaring. In the concluding love duet Siragusa is joined by Aya Wakizono, whose pretty voice is well suited to the role and this number also hints at greater things to come. There is a lot of skilful orchestration and even though the little opera hardly can be regarded as a masterpiece it should have boded well for the future – had it ever been performed at the time.

Mayr’s Che originali! is something quite different. Here we meet a mature composer in his mid-30s who had already written several successful operas, the first, Saffo (review) premiered in Venice in 1794 to a libretto by Simeone Antonio Sografi, the very Sografi who also wrote the libretto for Donizetti’s Pigmalione. Che originali! is a one-act farsa that became very popular and later was performed under various other titles. The story is no literary masterwork: Don Febeo is a music fanatic. His daughter Aristea and Don Carolino love each other but Carolino knows nothing about music and Febeo will not allow him to marry Aristea. In the end Carolino pretends to be a famous composer, Semiminima (Crotchet) whom Febeo admires. And the young couple can marry. The moral is questionable – but it is a farsa of course.

There are several other characters involved, but we need not bother about them to appreciate the music. We can just establish that Angela Nisi, who sings Donna Rosina, has good coloratura and sings well in her aria Infelice, sventurata (CD 2 tr. 7); that Gioia Crepaldi in the role of Celestina is lively and pert and has a nice aria, Marito mi chiede (CD 1 tr. 12); that Omar Montanari (Biscroma) is an excellent buffo, who has several solos and is at his most effective in the aria Finché mie belle (CD 2 tr. 5) and that there are several good ensembles, of which the quintet Il cor mi palpita (CD 2 tr. 12) is probably the pick of the bunch. But it is righteously the three main characters who have the meatiest pieces and they are truly excellent. Bruno de Simone has been one of the great buffos for many years and his voice sounds somewhat elderly, which is no drawback for the role of Don Febeo, and it is a pleasure to hear him whenever he turns up. Among the highlights are the duet with Aristea, Neil pensier che padre io sono (CD 2 tr. 3) and his solo scene Misero me (CD 2 tr. 9) which leads over to a long ensemble. This is expressive buffo singing of the highest order. Leonardo Cortellazzi as Don Carolino appears rather late in the action and in the duet with Aristea Vedrai mio ben la pecora (CD 1 tr. 16) he is only middling, but when he is vouchsafed his own aria Se non foste quel che siete (CD 2 tr. 1) only minutes later he is well up to the requirements.

And then we have the prima donna, mezzo-soprano Chiara Amarù as Aristea. Palermo born she was a member of Teatro Massimo’s children choir for ten years before she entered the V. Bellini Music Conservatory in her hometown and graduated in 2007. She is excellent in every respect: good voice, nuanced readings, expressive, not least in the recitatives, and she has real hit number of this score, the cavatina Chi dice mal d’amore (CD 1 tr. 14), a piece that has had a life of its own beside the opera. Towards the end of the opera she has another great number, Tu di quest’anima (CD 2 tr. 18), truly beautiful.

On top of this we have numerous opportunities to admire Mayr’s handling of the orchestra. He opens the proceedings with a fine overture. After a slow intro, follows a lively, dazzling presto with virtuoso woodwind solos, so typical of Mayr. And time and again one can savour his orchestral felicities. It is a riveting performance and I can’t believe anyone listening to this recording can avoid smiling with pleasure, not even an inveterate sourpuss.

Göran Forsling


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