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Mayr Rediscovered
15 Mar 2009

Mayr Rediscovered

Apparently Opera Rara “discovered” Giovanni Simone Mayr some years ago when it included several excerpts from his operas in their multi-volume series, “A Hundred Years of Italian Opera.”

Mayr Rediscovered

Antonino Siragusa, Daniela Barcellona, Marilyn Hill Smith, Della Jones, Eiddwen Harrhy, Nan Christie, Sandra Dugdale, Russell Smythe, Philip Doghan, Yvonne Kenny, Kevin John, Robin Leggate, Diana Montague, Myrna Moreno, Penelope Walker, Bruce Ford. Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestra of the Teatro Liricio ’Giuseppe Verdi’ Triest. Conductors - David Parry (tracks 1, 3-10) and Tiziano Severini (2).

Opera Rara CD ORR244

$24.99  Click to buy

Two complete recordings followed: Medea in Corinto and Ginerva di Scozia. Now comes this single disc set, “Mayr Rediscovered,” which compiles the Mayr music from the “Hundred Years” series with a single selection each from the two complete sets. If Opera Rara finds some more Mayr in their catalog, the next release should be called “Mayr Re-Redisovered.”

Born in Germany as Johann Simon Mayr, the composer came to Italy in his early twenties to study and through hard work established himself as an opera composer and teacher; Donizetti studied under Mayr for some time. Jeremy Commons’s brief but informative booklet notes relates that Rossini “eclipsed” Mayr. Of course, Rossini could not eclipse Mozart. If Mayr’s operas truly had the qualities that make for a standard repertory piece, they could have found an accommodating orbit without Rossini’s work throwing them into darkness.

The above is not meant to say that Mayr’s music is poor. Indeed, the orchestral settings have taste and charm, with a touch of Haydn’s wit from time to time. Opera Rara does not supply texts, but the music always seems to be set to the mood of the piece, with a sensitivity to word and expression. Most of the tracks are between 5 and 10 minutes, which suggests that Mayr excelled in extended scenes while adhering to the formalized patterns of so-called “numbers” operas.

Commons quotes Louis Spohr as admitting that Mayr, as compared to Rossini, lacked “imagination” but had “more knowledge and aesthetic feeling.” What too much of the music on this disc reveals then is that imagination trumps knowledge and aesthetic feeling. As pleasant and refined as much of this music is, the melodic lines tend to wander unmemorably, and the climaxes feel manipulated rather than organic.

Opera Rara snags some very good singers, including Daniella Barcellona, Antonio Siragusa, and on some of the earlier recordings, Bruce Ford, Della Jones and Yvonne Kenny. However, at least two tracks here suffer from the pinched, acidic tones of tenor Russell Smythe, who has one of those voices chosen for its ability to manage high-lying and florid music. It might be preferable to find a singer who would have to compromise a bit on the challenges of the piece but who can provide a more appealing tone. David Parry provides professional support as conductor for all the tracks except the Ginerva di Scozia one, where Tiziano Severini holds the baton.

Finding the earlier Opera Rara sets from which the company drew these selections might not be easy, or even possible, so this disc will be most welcome to lovers of unusual repertory. For others, the highlight might be the same as it was for your reviewer: discovering a picture of Bruce Ford in the booklet where the singer looks like a dead ringer for Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Chris Mullins

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