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Johann Simon MAYR (1763-1845)
Le due duchesse, opera semiseria in due atti (1814)
Edgaro - Young-Jun Ahn (tenor), Loredano - Jaegyeong Jo (bass), Malvina - Eun-Hye Choi (soprano), Enrico - Markus Schäfer (tenor), Artur - Jörn Lindemann (tenor), Ruggiero - Harald Thum (tenor), Laura - Tina Marie Herbert (soprano), Betzi - Anna Feith (soprano), Berto - Samuel Hasselhorn (baritone), Guglielmo - Niklas Mallmann (bass), Pietro - Andreas Mattersberger (bass)
Members of the Bavarian State Opera Chorus, Simon Mayr Chorus
Concerto de Bassus/Franz Hauk (harpsichord)
rec. 2017, Kongreationssaal, Neuburg an der Donau, Bavaria, Germany
Booklet with notes and synopsis in English and German
First Recording
NAXOS 8.660422-23 [76:45 + 85:25]

Here we have another release in the Naxos series of revivals of the music of Neapolitan styled composer Johann Simon Mayr. The series has been going for some time now and this the sixth opera to be released alongside other religious and symphonic works. Mayr was one of the leading composers of the day when the young Rossini started to make a name for himself. Rossini’s fame quickly surpassed the established composers like Mayr; after hearing this opera it is easy to understand why.

Le Due Duchesse comes along in 1814 just as Rossini was really hitting his stride. The libretto is one of the early efforts of Felice Romani. Mayr’s music is generally very restrained and elegant, perhaps too much so to modern ears. He provides lovely solo parts for much of the orchestra to shine in the arias and his use of horn calls would have likely made Carl Maria von Weber rather envious. My general perception is of an entertainment that offers one extremely elegant vocal solo after another with little variation to enliven the drama. Things only begin to catch fire in the superb grand sextet of Act II. (Track 10 on CD two). This is Mayr showing his more inspired side coupled with some dramatic oomph, possibly in response to the kind of explosive ensembles that Rossini was producing.

The story of this opera concerns a Duchess, Malvina, who has been betrothed to King Edgardo but because she loves a courtier named Enrico she has gone into hiding. The Duchess’ maid, Laura, pretends to be the Duchess when the King arrives on the scene to hunt for wolves in the forest. Various mistaken identities ensue until all ends happily for everyone concerned while not a single wolf gets harmed during the course of the opera.

The three principal roles are sung by a truly excellent trio of singers that are all native to South Korea. Jaegyeong Jo has an attractive walnut-toned bass which he shows off beautifully during his lovely serenade in the opening scene. Young-Jun Ahn as the King reveals an attractive lyric tenor which is remarkably even throughout his range. Best of all is the marvellous soprano Eun-Hye Choi. She is a well schooled lyric soprano with a nicely poised agility and sings with remarkable finesse. May we hear more from her, please? The other principal roles are nicely taken by Tina Marie Herbert who is another lively lyric soprano and the warm sounding tenor of Markus Schafer.

Franz Hauk is well used to unearthing these long-dead Mayr works and he coaxes some lovely playing from the Bavarian period orchestra that he uses. He gives a lively reading of the overture which highlights the musical allusions to Rossini. He also plays the harpsichord quite neatly during the recitatives. The audio engineering is well done leaving me nothing to complain about at all. I note that Naxos has been able to push beyond the redbook standard and manufacture a CD that lasts more than 85 minutes. An Italian libretto with a German translation is available from the Naxos website

Mike Parr

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