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8.660198-99 - MAYR: Amor coniugale (L')
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Simon Mayr (1763-1845)
L’amor coniugale


Libretto by Gaetano Rossi (1774-1855) after Jean Nicolas Bouilly

Zeliska/Malvino - Cinzia Rizzone (soprano)
Amorveno - Francescantonio Bille (tenor)
Floreska - Tatjana Charalgina (soprano)
Peters - Dariusz Machej (bass)
Moroski - Giovanni Bellavia (bass-baritone)
Ardelao - Bradley Trammell (tenor)

Württemberg Philharmonic Orchestra
Christopher Franklin
Assistant: Marco Bellei

Edition by Florian Bauer for performance at the ROSSINI IN WILDBAD festival, after the revised score of Arrigo Gazzaniga


Simon Mayr’s L’amor coniugale in context

Interest began in Johann Simon Mayr at an early date, particularly in German-language music history. The native of Bavaria, who later elected to become a lifelong Bergamese, was an important forerunner of nineteenthcentury Italian opera; but it was as a disciple of Viennese classicism acting as an agent between two worlds that has earned him special significance. Ludwig Schiedermair’s articles from the beginning of the twentieth century are as substantial a testimony to this as Heinrich Bauer’s practical efforts made in putting forward the performance of Mayr’s operatic output for discussion during the 1960s and 70s. John Allitt should also be mentioned here as the author of two books - one in English, the other in Italian – in which he tackled Mayr’s biography set against cultural history and its social context; he also presented an impressive list of 1510 opus numbers. It was Allitt’s initiative that led to the first modern performance of L’amor coniugale in London during the 1970s, albeit in a concert version; it had been edited for performance by Arrigo Gazzaniga as part of the Monumenta Bergomensia in 1967. Then, in the 1990s, there was a veritable upsurge of interest in Mayr: The International Simon Mayr Society, with its headquarters in Ingolstadt, an Italian organization in Bergamo, as well as numerous conferences and conference reports bear witness to a stirring of interest in research, and to the detailed, systematic reappraisal of Mayr’s oeuvre that yielded remarkable results and fresh insights. Good introductions to Mayr’s life and works can be found in Allitt’s books as well as music encyclopaedias such as The New Grove Dictionary, Piper and MGG. PierAngelo Pelucchi’s edition of Girolamo Calvi’s nineteenth-century biography of Mayr with extensive footnotes also deserves to be mentioned.

Following Allitt, Mayr’s life can be divided into the following five main periods:
He was born on 14th June 1763 in Mendorf; this first period extends from 1763 till 1789 and covers Mayr’s youth in Bavaria until his arrival in Italy. Included within this period are his training and studies in Ingolstadt, and his acquaintance with Baron Thomas von Bassus who took him to Italy and as his mentor introduced him to a world of secret lodges and the so-called ‘illuminati’. The second period covers his early years in Italy from 1789 until 1802, centred in Venice where he composed small-scale pieces, church music and oratorios initially before his eventual promotion to opera composer in 1794.

The third period from 1802 to 1813 marks the central Bergamese years when he was exceedingly active as a composer and founded his own music school in Bergamo, the “Lezioni Caritatevoli”, in 1805; Donizetti was one of his first pupils and is said to have remained grateful to Mayr as his teacher and maintained his friendship for the rest of his life. The fourth period from 1813 to 1824 is marked by key operatic successes as well as increasing pedagogical activity and composition of church music; during this period, Mayr gradually bowed out of opera. The fifth and final period, from 1825 to 1845, were Mayr’s ‘elder statesman years’, to quote Allitt’s phrase; increasing difficulties with eyesight and an unsuccessful cataract operation hindered his practical work. These years were highly productive nonetheless: Mayr composed many religious works, wrote treatises on the history and theory of music and brought about the Italian premières of several models of Viennese classicism. The celebrity had long been an institution of Bergamese musical life, although he was also considered classical and hence antiquated next to the romanticism of the 1830s and 1840s; as a consequence, he was steadily being superseded. During his final years, Mayr became completely blind. He died on 2nd December 1845 in Bergamo.

A few titles of important operas that enjoyed great success should be mentioned before turning to the subject of musical development. His first two operas, Saffo (1794) and Lodoiska (1796), were written for Venice, followed by a number of opere buffe or farse, from the same period : Avviso ai maritati (1798), Che originali (1798), L’avaro (1799); the “dramma serioeroico per musica” Ginevra di Scozia (Trieste, 1801) – the opera said to have been Mayr’s first ‘worldwide success’; Alonso e Cora (Milan, 1803); L’amor coniugale (Padua, 1805); Adelasia ed Aleramo (Milan, 1806); and La rosa bianca e la rosa rossa (Genoa, 1813); Medea in Corinto (Naples, 1813) is really his best-known work, to be followed by Alfredo il grande (Rome, 1818) and Fedra (Milan, 1820).

Towards the end of the eighteenth century Italian opera was still very much being written along the same lines defined by a late rococo style that lent itself to the reciprocal inspiration to be found in dramatic works by Paisiello, Cimarosa, Salieri, Righini, and Zingarelli as well as Mozart’s Italian operas. During the second half of the settecento, the more flexible, plot-driven opera buffa, with its delight in ensembles, began to exert a strong influence on the formally ossified, Metastasian opera seria, with its regimented deployment of recitative and da capo aria. This resulted in a significant expansion of the formal language of opera seria. The one-act farsa sentimentale, with its prevailing maudlin tone, was increasingly taken up during the 1790s - as was opera semiseria - by dint of the French Revolution. This prevailing tone is one to which L’amor coniugale also adheres. The form likewise encouraged the hybridisation of the two main genres, opera seria and opera buffa, through their mutual synthesis, so that by the time of Mayr’s first stage successes, the ground had been prepared for an expanded recasting of the Italian opera mould with a more colourful vocabulary.

It was Simon Mayr then who was responsible for the cautious conversion of late eighteenth-century opera to that of the early nineteenth century at a time when opera seria had been reduced to a simple formula: in acting as mediator between the opera seria of the eighteenth century and the melodramma of the nineteenth, he promoted new tone colours through his treatment of the orchestra, instrumentation and harmony, drawing on his background knowledge of German music and Viennese classicism in particular. He did as much to create a school through his own compositions as through his teaching in Bergamo. French opera too exerted an influence on Mayr and his contemporaries in this field, especially in the form of the opéra-comique, and the farsa sentimentale, which it strongly influenced. During the first decade of the nineteenth century, this complete transformation was effected peaceably and with restraint and took hold at an irregular pace according to the musical taste of a city or, more precisely, its theatre; the somewhat conservative North stood in contrast to the more progressive, Frenchinfluenced Naples in the South; the names of composers such as Paër, Pucitta, Nicolini, Pavesi, Generali and the two Moscas should be mentioned in this connection along with Mayr’s.

Thus a musical style was able to form that would become an essential ingredient of opera, so to speak, for the next couple of decades: it was the same style that resulted from the distillation of various personal styles of the time, which Gioachino Rossini prescribed and made his own as a budding composer around 1810. By way of illustration, we may take the crescendo, thought of as typically Rossinian, but is already present in the early operas of Mayr; the rhythmic patterns so characteristic of Rossini’s opera in the form of simple repeated chords with a certain ‘spring’ to the melodic line, are already quite clearly present in the genre before Rossini, just as nineteenth-century stylistics were being formed. Works belonging to the opera seria genre, such as Ginevra di Scozia and Adelasia ed Aleramo, or L’avaro or L’amor coniugale in the buffa/farsa/ semiseria genre, already exhibit all the characteristics commonly associated with Rossini, but at the time just prior to Rossini’s making a name for himself as a composer of operas. Nonetheless, the bestowing of a valid form that was both spontaneous and enduring on a musical language that developed gradually, whilst vacillating between the old and new, should remain to Rossini’s credit.

This pre-Rossinian style glistens throughout L’amor coniugale too. Gaetano Rossi wrote the libretto of this archetypal pièce de sauvetage (rescue opera) following the libretto for Jean Nicolas Bouilly’s opéra-comique, Léonore, ou L’Amour conjugal, set by Pierre Gaveaux, and originally performed in Paris in 1798. Mayr’s opera based on the story of Leonora takes its place between two other operas on the same subject, after Paër’s Leonora ossia L’amor coniugale (Dresden, 1804) and shortly before Beethoven’s Leonore (Vienna, 1805), the first version of his Fidelio. Admittedly, the librettist transposed the plot - presumably based on real events during the turmoil of the French Revolution - to the still exotic setting of seventeenth-century Poland according to the fashion of the time for things Polish: settings of the Lodoiska story, by Cherubini and Mayr respectively, served as models here; he also changed the names of the protagonists. Thus the soprano rôle of Leonore/Fidelio became Zeliska/Malvino; her imprisoned husband Florestan mutated into a singing Amorveno (tenor), Rocco the jailer is now called Peters (bass); in addition, we find Floreska (formerly Marzellina), Peter’s daughter (soprano), Moroski (formerly Piz(z)arro), the governor (bass) and Amorveno’s brother, Ardelao (tenor). Particularly noticeable from the point of view of dramaturgy are: the condensing of the original French drama into a single act; the cutting of the rôle of Jaquino/Giachino; the rewriting of the rôle of the minister, Don Fernando, to become Amorveno’s brother Ardelao required by the censors; and also the efforts made by the librettist, Rossi, to make a shift in emphasis from the revolutionary plot focussing on the theme of liberation and the concept of freedom that dominates at least Fidelio, Beethoven’s final version, to one of personal conflict and inter-personal relationships.

Having given L’amor coniugale resounding acclaim, the eminent Mayr expert, John Stewart Allitt who died recently, wrote in the programme for the 2004 Wildbad performance of L’amor coniugale:

“Mayr was working in the theatrical tradition of Galuppi, Goldoni and others. His music, however, stands within a different frame of reference: it is both dramatic and lyrical - as soon as the prison scene begins, there is a series of thrilling ensembles. Notice how Zeliska throws herself in front of her husband to save him from the shot! The scene is modelled on Mozart’s suicide scene from Così fan tutte  (…) Mayr orchestrates the spinning process with the simplest of means as Floreska sings a catchy tune whilst seated at her spinning-wheel. Floreska’s father, Peters, assumes the buffo aspect of the entertainment described as ‘farsa sentimentale’ or ‘opera semiseria’, and in this way negotiates the seriousness of the prison scene. His humour is that of an ordinary man who simply fulfils his duty. This is in stark contrast to Zeliska’s dutiful seriousness in the beautiful cantabile ‘Caro oggetto d’un affetto’ that follows, which then develops into an equally beautiful trio. Note here how Mayr takes the earnest Floreska into the aria in which she expresses her feelings for Zeliska convinced that she is a man. Her love is simple, like a first awakening (…). To prevent Peters’ buffo aria being perceived as an anti-climax to the scene, it should be borne in mind that the opera belongs to the category of farsa, and as such requires a counterbalance to the previous dramatic outbursts of emotion. In conclusion, I would like to direct the reader’s attention to one last detail, as this is a work that encourages us to engage and make our own discoveries as active listeners. Surely everyone will find that he has already heard the ballad Zeliska sings in Scene 14 before. The theme is famous as Rossini’s aria from Cenerentola, sung as she wipes the floor, forlorn of hope. Why did Rossini borrow Mayr’s melody? Perhaps because she is similarly trapped and calls for her beloved to hear her lament and set her free. At that time, composers frequently quoted from each other, but always for one particular reason: if, for example, Moroski climbs down into the dungeon, a corresponding quotation will remind us of Don Giovanni. This is exactly what poets such as T.S. Eliot did from time to time. The music is therefore imbued with a certain quality of sound, and Mayr does quote from the best music of his time, and from his models Haydn and Mozart in particular. He elaborated this to become a demonstration of quality in order to show the younger generation what ‘good’ music was, which he described as ‘reforming’ Italian music, from which Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and others were able to learn. This renaissance is an important aspect of our revaluation of Mayr, as it signifies the consummation of his early Venetian period.”

As it iridesces between external drama and inner sentiment, Mayr’s music is very nearly the archetypal semiseria or sentimental farsa of the period around 1800; but, while it certainly adopts characteristics of its French model to some extent, it does, however, retain Italian traditions of drama and structure by and large, and so reflects the different criteria necessary for its assessment. In this connection, attention should be drawn to the grand scale of the introduzione, as well as the finale in particular, both of which demonstrate the innovations of Rossi’s libretto regarding the more complex organization of the scene blocking.

It is the almost simultaneous but probably independent appearance in particular of operatic settings based on the story of Leonora by Paër, Mayr and Beethoven that has provided musicology with the incentive to analyse them comparatively. But on all accounts, it is Mayr and Rossi’s L’amor coniugale that represents the most self-contained adaptation of Bouilly’s original Leonora.

Thomas Lindner
English version by Neil Coleman




The scene is a prison somewhere in Poland. The gaoler Peters has recently taken a young man, Malvino, into his house as assistant. This is, however, the disguised Zeliska, who wants to free her husband, unjustly imprisoned. Floreska, the daughter of Peters, has fallen in love with the handsome young man and wants to marry him. Peters himself is not against this marriage, as Malvino is competent and careful. Malvino, however, puts things off. For him it seems more important to be able to accompany Peters on a visit to the prisoners. Peters is willing to ask the Governor’s permission, but refuses the plea of Malvino to be allowed to see the imprisoned Amorveno, as the latter is condemned to death. The prison Governor Moroski loves Amorveno’s wife, Zeliska. To accomplish his ends he has had the innocent Amorveno thrown into prison where he will starve to death. When Moroski arrives, he learns that Amorveno’s brother Ardelao is on his way to the prison, intent on uncovering this crime. Moroski sees only one way out: Amorveno must die immediately, yet for this deed he himself lacks the courage. He therefore counts on Peters. When he tells him what he plans and asks him for his help, Peters is dismayed. He justifies his decision to him and to Floreska on the grounds that one must do anything for money: money rules the world.

In the prison Amorveno languishes, realising that he will stay in his cell until he starves to death. He only wants to see his wife Zeliska for one last time. Peters and Zeliska (still disguised as Malvino) enter the cell. While Peters prepares Amorveno for a quick death, Zeliska struggles with her tears, when she sees her husband again. Moroski appears to see how Peters is carrying out his task. As Peters cannot bring himself to kill Amorveno, Moroski must do it himself. Zeliska tries to stop him and reveals her true identity. She tells Moroski that he can only kill Amorveno if he kills her too. At this Moroski breaks down: he cannot and will not kill the woman he loves. While Amorveno and Zeliska are overjoyed at meeting again, Ardelao appears. As a deus ex machina he rescues the couple and condemns Moroski.

English version by Keith Anderson


The Italian libretto may be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/660198.htm

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