|About this Recording
8.660361-62 - MAYR, J.S.: Amor non soffre opposizione [Opera giocosa] (Caselli, Resch, Lichtenegger, Gaiser, Faig, East-West European Festival Orchestra, Hauk)
Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845)
Mayr and Italian opera c.1800
Giovanni Simone Mayr’s dramma per musica Amore non soffre opposizioni was first heard on 24th February 1810 at the Teatro Giustiniani in San Moisè in Venice. There was a second performance on 26th February that same year. The opera buffa in two acts was advertised outside San Moisè from autumn 1809 until carnival 1810, initially under the title Merito e fortuna (Merit and luck). The singers for the première were Luigi Rafanelli (Argante), Filippo Destri (Ernesto), Teresa Strinasacchi (Elmira/Zefirina), Giovanni Battista Brocchi (Policarpo), Carolina Costa (Gelmina) and Domenico Remolini (Martorello).
The Teatro San Moisè had been built by the San Bernaba branch of the Giustiniani family. The first production there, in 1640, was of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L’Arianna (now lost). The theatre was famous for its warmth and intimacy and for its excellent acoustics. It had 164 seats in twelve rows in the stalls, plus 107 boxes over four levels. Since the 18th century, the main focus of its productions had been farse and drammi giocosi. For the nobility, owning a theatre was a model business: boxes were sought-after and could be rented out, and the impresario had to sign a lease with the owners and bore the risk himself.
Theatre was an attraction for Venetians and visitors to the city alike. In 1789 Johann Christoph Maier noted in his Beschreibung von Venedig (Description of Venice) that “Public spectacles are one of the major entertainments during carnival season, the Venetians being exceedingly fond of them.”
His account of his journey gives information about ticket prices at that time:
Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall’s Zeichnungen auf einer Reise von Wien über Triest nach Venedig, und von da zurück durch Tyrol und Salzburg. Im Jahre 1798 (Sketches on a journey from Vienna via Trieste to Venice, and back passing through the Tyrol and Salzburg. Anno 1798) even gives a vivid description of Italian perfomance practice:
In 1799 the orchestra at San Moisè, which was always engaged by the ruling impresario, comprised twelve violins, two violas, one cello, three violoni, two oboes, two clarinets, a bassoon, two horns, timpani and harpsichord; in 1818 ten violins [of which two were probably violas], one cello, three double basses, a flute, two oboes, two clarinets, a bassoon, two hunting horns, two trumpets and harpsichord are listed; for 1810 Radiciotti lists twelve violins, two violas, a cello, two double basses, two flutes, two oboes, two bassi [two bassoons?], two horns, two clarini [two clarinets or 2 trumpets?] and harpsichord, though there is no proof. In our experience, such details are rarely to be taken literally, but more as a guide, since orchestras at the time generally included unpaid instrumentalists with a claim to a future position and individual musicians engaged to play several instruments.
The libretto for Amore non soffre was written by the Venetian theatrical poet Giuseppe Foppa, with whom Mayr had already collaborated for earlier operatic productions, including his 1797 debut opera at San Moisè, the farsa Il segreto. A letter to Simon Mayr from Valentino Bertoia (joint impresario with Antonio Cera as well as an instrumentalist at the Teatro San Moisè) dated 21st June 1809 gives an insight into the genesis of the piece. The letter discusses two farsi that Mayr was to compose for carnovale 1810 and the problem of rehearsing both works with the musicians, saying that Mayr knows the ensemble that was available at any rate. Bertoia goes on to sketch out a timetable: Giuseppe Foppa can definitely deliver the first libretto—probably Amore non soffre—by September 1809, and half the farsa is to be set to music by mid-October. Mayr is expected in Venice by 1st January 1810. On 13th January at the latest the first farsa should go into production, and the other work is to be ready by 15th February.
This plan was only partially executed, the second farsa that is mentioned having probably been postponed to 1811. On 9th July 1810 Antonio Cera confirmed the commission to Simon Mayr, on 20th September 1810 Rossi outlined proposals for an “azione di nuovo genere in musica”. The farsa sentimentale L’amor figliale was finally chosen—according to the printed libretto a Melo-Dramma di sentimento in one act—and it was premièred at San Moisè on 12th February 1811. The dénouement of Amore probably owes something to the growing popularity of the “sentimental drama”, as well as to the “cult of the family” which was a theme in other works of this period: In his innocence the child resolves the emotional entanglements of the characters, though Gelmina for one is left battered and bruised.
A letter from Foppa to Mayr dated 2nd September 1809 gives information about how librettist and composer worked together:
All this sheds light on the “opera industry” of the time: a composer was expected to write an opera in about three weeks. In addition, he had to fine-tune the draft locally in consultation with the performers, oversee the copying of the parts and accompany rehearsals. In 1809, the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung reported: “In judging one of their operas as a true work of art, we in Germany may therefore often be doing the poor Italian composers an injustice. No composer is able or permitted to write as he would wish, but must in fear and trembling shackle himself to the taste of the audience, or their lack thereof, and still more anxiously to the individual characters and abilities of the singers, who rule over him, altering, cutting and mutilating in whatever manner they deem most advantageous” (column 373).
There is no overture in the autograph score of Amore, so the overture to Amor avvocato has been used, with the addition of two trumpets and timpani. Mayr also used this overture, with variations, to open Bella ciarle e fatti triste (1807) and La rosa bianca e la rosa rossa (1813).
Mayr’s biographer Girolamo Calvi links Amore with two other works: Raùl di Crequì, a melodrama serio premièred on 26th December 1809 at La Scala in Milan, and Né l’un, né l’altro, an opera buffa first staged there on 17th August 1807. It is indeed the case that the finales of Amore and Raùl are variants of each other, while the introduction to Amore takes up phrases from the Chorus of Sculptors (Coro di Scultori) in Raùl. Both of Mayr’s opere buffe—Né l’un and Amore—contributed to the development of the genre, being transitional works whose compositional innovations could be taken up by composers such as Gioachino Rossini. Rossini himself did acknowledge this contribution of Mayr’s in later years.
For Mayr, Amore in fact marked a point of suspension; aside from revivals and pasticcio operas, it was not until 1817, after an interval of seven years, that he wrote another opera buffa, Amor avvocato, for the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples. As well as containing some selfquotations, the latter work conforms to Neapolitan practice in having no recitatives.
Rossini began his operatic career in 1810 at the Teatro San Moisè in Venice with the farsa La cambiale di matrimonio, as Simon Mayr did with Amore. In the ensuing three years the up-and-coming composer from Pesaro had three new opere buffe performed there, achieving his first big success in 1812 with L’inganno felice. Did Rossini thereby outstrip Mayr? As late as 1813 the Milan correspondent of the influential Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung was writing: “Nowadays he [Rossini] is, after Sim. Mayr, probably the best opera composer in Italy.”
What position did Simon Mayr occupy in Italian operatic life around 1810? An arts review of the period contrasts Italian and German opera, noting that the Italians set more store by lyrical melodies than by the rather predictable harmonies which were pleasing when first heard. Everything is governed by the singers and the audience, it reports. “Moreover, a pleasant, merry style of singing is required which is easy to grasp, even where words and plot demand melancholy or forceful, savage music. ‘They deliberately trespass against all genuine expression’” (Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 1810, col. 913). This probably explains why Italian music rarely uses minor keys to reflect dramatic situations.
German composers, by contrast, wish to appeal to the musical intellect of the connoisseur, the publication asserts; they strive for originality, personal solutions, expertise and learning, including with respect to the structure of the orchestral writing. No wonder, then, that the operas of a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart have difficulty establishing themselves in Italy, the writer concludes.
And Mayr? Could there be some way of reconciling these opposites, of attempting to bring them together? In an article published in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung of 1813 (column 277) entitled Schreiben eines in Italien reisenden Deutschen (Letter from a German traveller in Italy) Mayr is contrasted with his Italian contemporaries: “The commonplace Italian opera composers today are: Nicolini, Farinelli, Basily, Orland, Pavesi, Generali, Rossini, Mosca and Guglielmi the younger. I do not put Zingarelli in this category […]; still less Simon Mayer, who is known and valued by musical cognoscenti throughout Europe, whose manner of composition, at least in his later, more significant works, is so very different to the gentlemen I have listed, who is, moreover, German not only by birth but also, in point of fact, in his works.”
A reviewer from Genoa is even clearer when discussing the première of La rosa bianca e la rosa rossa in 1813: “True to his genius and insight, Mayr has, as in others of his later works, sought to meld the virtues and individual characters of his former and present native lands, Germany and Italy: beautiful, expressive melodies; a natural vocal style which moves us; and intellectually stimulating, meaningful harmonies; execution with art and persistence; careful, experienced use of all the advantages of German instrumentation, are present throughout” (Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 1813, col.346).
 Policarpo, who has been a widower for 30 years, is expecting visitors. He wants his daughter Gelmina to marry well, i.e. into a rich family, and Argante is coming to Livorno with his son Ernesto and servant Martorello in search of a bride. From the outset, there is limited enthusiasm on both sides. Policarpo seems overwhelmed by the preparations for the celebration, regarding visitors as a “cosa ben terribile”—“a bad business”. The way the parties greet each other is more clichéd than sincere: Argante complains about the strains of the journey, indulges in obscure innuendos and stresses how clever he is. Policarpo soon becomes suspicious: “Parla un tocco, e mangia il resto”—“He says a little and skates over the rest”. And Ernesto evades his intended bride Gelmina’s overtures of friendship.  Argante talks incessantly about drawing up a favourable marriage contract. Gelmina is full of hope. Policarpo is secretly surprised at Argante’s strange behaviour, but knows a good match when he sees one.  Zefirina, Policarpo’s housekeeper, is in poor spirits. Running into Ernesto and his father Argante, she claims she is suffering from convulsions.  Ernesto is playing for time, trying to delay the wedding. When he is with Policarpo, he mouths empty phrases. Policarpo wants to know where he stands at long last.  Ernesto now pleads with Policarpo to cancel the wedding, “od un destin terribile su tutti piomberà”—“otherwise a terrible fate will befall us all”.  Zefirina has a coversation with Policarpo in which her dark allusions increase Policarpo’s suspicions about the guests who have arrived. She tells Martorello her life history: Ernesto, she claims, married her in secret. He went to America for five years and they lost contact with each other. Then she received a letter bearing Ernesto’s signature, telling her that he had married again. She felt betrayed by him. After that she assumed the name of Zefirina and took a position as housekeeper to Policarpo. She has never met Ernesto’s father Argante.  Zefirina and Ernesto meet, and he recognises her voice. Each accuses the other of having been unfaithful. Policarpo joins them, and Zefirina plays off him, suggesting that they are intimate acquaintances.  Policarpo wishes to talk to Argante, Gelmina is looking for Ernesto. Martorello promises both that he’ll act as gobetween.  Full of hope, Gelmina sings of her coming wedding.  Policarpo demands that Argante finally give him some precise information about the bridegroom; he wishes to make the marriage public. Argante calms matters, falteringly giving his reason:  his son has had an affair with a woman by the name of Elmira that has caused him a great deal of pain. A letter has been sent to her, and Ernesto has been given to understand that Elmira is unfaithful and is now in the arms of a new lover. Because of this, he, Argante, asks Policarpo to be discreet.  Zefirina is in a turmoil; she is querulous and unable to understand the business with Ernesto and the letter.  In the aria that follows she sings to hope: “Per un figlio in tal momento io ti bramo a me sincera; quest’è ’l voto dell’amor”—“For a son‘s sake I would that you would deal with me honestly; this is a lover’s vow”.  Zefirina flirts with Policarpo in front of Ernesto. Policarpo is immediately aroused. Ernesto is jealous and in his turn tries to get his revenge by asking Policarpo to hasten his planned marriage to Gelmina.  Zefirina and Martorello assure each other of their loyalty.  Argante is about to read the marriage contract when Martorello joins them, claiming that Zefirina is at the door arguing with a woman called Elmira who is demanding admittance. Ernesto, Argante and Policarpo freeze.  Zefirina enters and reports the conversation she is supposed to have had with Elmira. Elmira, she says, is Ernesto’s bride; she swore eternal love to him and is demanding justice.  Ernesto tries to defend himself, saying Elmira abandoned him and ran off with a lover—and he points to Policarpo. The confusion increases. Gelmina tries to hang on to Ernesto, but he runs off. All declaim “Ma qualcun la pagherà”—“But someone will pay for this”.
 It is night. Ernesto is brooding silently. He is starting to have a nasty suspicion that his father might have written the letter.  Zefirina turns over matters by herself. She doesn’t know what to think. Ernesto watches her quietly, wanting to speak to her, but Policarpo enters. He too is angry at the difficulties and unpleasantness. Ernesto withdraws. Zefirina hides and keeps watch. Argante tells Policarpo he is considering leaving. He asks about Elmira, Policarpo swears he doesn’t know her. Ernesto also initially dodges the question whether he has seen her. The party assembles for a nocturnal discussion. Zefirina furtively extinguishes the lights and stages a macabre ghostly apparition:  Disguising her voice, she appears as Elmira come to avenge herself. Suspecting that the devil is behind it, Policarpo’s reaction to the strange vision is one of fear, Argante‘s more one of annoyance. Gelmina again searches for her intended; Argante wishes to speak to his son.  Martorello now brings Zefirina and Ernesto together. Ernesto explains to her that he did not compose the letter and it was probably his father Argante’s work. Ernesto now declares in front of everyone that he cannot marry Gelmina as he is already committed to Elmira.  In the aria “O qual velo tenebroso or si squarcia a me davanti”—“Oh, what dark veil is rent asunder before me” Zefirina alias Elmira reflects on this astonishing development.  Policarpo is still groping in the dark. Argante begins to smell a rat and suggests talking to Zefirina.  Martorello sings an aria in which he philosophises over the incomprehensibility of the fair sex.  Zefirina and Ernesto would like to win Argante’s support for their union. He appears in Zefirina’s chamber and behaves in an overly familiar manner: “Oh carissima!”—“Oh, my dearest!”  Zefirina unmasks his little game: “Falsa lettera scriveste…”—“You forged a letter...” She shows him her and Ernesto’s little boy. For the moment, Argante is moved.  Policarpo calls Argante to account and both lament their delicate health.  Finally, Argante leads a confused Policarpo to Zefirina’s chamber. They both call Elmira. Zefirina emerges resolutely: “Eccola. Elmira io sono”—“Here she is. I’m Elmira”. Argante pretends to be annoyed, Elmira asks his forgiveness and defends her behaviour: “Onor, dovere, amore, fan scudo a questo cor”—“Honour, duty, love are my heart’s defence”.  Policarpo shows understanding of the situation, Argante is still wrestling with himself, but eventually catches sight of the little boy and joins the lovers’ hands. Gelmina cannot make out what is happening, paying for her naive trustfulness by being left a victim.  There is a brief closing chorus in praise of fidelity and constancy: “La costanza d’un alma fedele sempre vince l’avverso destino”—“A faithful soul’s constancy always triumphs over fate’s adversity”. The injured Gelmina’s participation seems mocking.
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