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Philip Greenfield
American Record Guide, November 2009

As with the other Latin oratorios Mayr crafted in the 1790s and dedicated to Venice’s Ospedale dei Mendicanti, and asylum for foundling girls, it is sung by an all-female cast. Raguel and Ann are the parents of Sara, the young woman who not only wins Tobias as a husband but is delivered from demons, thanks to the Archangel Raphael’s coaching. Tobias, you’ll note, is a mezzo; the others are sopranos. Each is a delight…The genre may say “oratorio”, but this is operatically-charged fare demanding the same sort of dexterity, clarity, and control as Mozart and the bel canto boys who came after him. (Mayr, you may recall, was one of Donizetti’s teachers.)…you’ll be impressed by the attractive voices and by everyone’s ability to sprint stylishly through the coloratura minefields. The orchestration also is part Mozart and part Rossini, with prominent horns (natural ones) providing a golden backdrop for the voices and the oboes dancing gracefully with the soloists whenever Mayr gives them a chance.

As he did in David in the Cave of Engedi [8.570366-67]…Herr Hauk works valiantly to put the composer over the top…the conducting get’s straight As…

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, September 2009

Mayr’s Tobiae matrimonium (The Marriage of Tobias) seems to have received its first performance in 1794 in Venice, performed by the Ospedale dei Mendicanti. Like the Pieta, which is well known for its association with Vivaldi, the Mendicanti trained its young female inhabitants in music. In 1794 there were 18 choir girls, six teachers along with eight paid girls; such was the reputation of the Venetian Ospedale that girls paid to receive a musical education. Oratorio seems to have been a popular genre in the Ospedale; at Easter 1794 the Mendicanti performed an oratorio by Anfossi. 
And the subject of Tobias, which comes from the apocrypha, seems to have been a popular one too. Four on the same topic are known to have been written for the Mendicanti, one by an unknown composer in 1723, Bertoni’s Tobias of 1773, Anfossi’s Tobias of 1780 and Mayr’s setting of the story. In addition Galuppi set a cantata text by Gozzi in 1782 and Paer wrote a cantata for the Mendicanti in 1795.

In most Tobias stories, it is Tobias’s return home and healing of his father, along with his companion’s revelation that he is an angel, which form the central drama of the oratorio. But not for Mayr and his librettist Foppa. They chose to concentrate on Tobias’s marriage to Sara. Sara’s seven previous husbands have all been killed by a demon. But Tobias marries her, armed with the knowledge passed on from his companion—the archangel Raphael in disguise—as to how to drive out demons.

Act 1 introduces the characters and ends with Sara’s father agreeing to their marriage. Act 2, which is somewhat shorter, covers the wedding night, the banishing of the demon and general celebration. Foppa’s libretto sticks fairly closely to the biblical text, with only a few expansions and theatrical devices. In a real comic opera, Foppa would have undoubtedly expanded the dramatic sections such as the banishing of the demon, which here covers a remarkably short time.

But Mayr seems to have decided that he was writing a comic opera, there is no sense of oratorio like sobriety and the handling of the story reminds me of the lighter sections in works like Handel’s Susanna. Mayr sets the piece for five high voices—four sopranos and one mezzo-soprano—with Sara’s father Raguel being played by a soprano.

This is a delightful work and listening to it you can easily forget its oratorio origins, except for the fact that text is in Latin. Mayr writes a sequence of recitatives, arias, accompagnatos and ensembles that cry out to be performed on the operatic stage. There is a chorus, but its use is severely limited, with choruses opening and closing the acts. Mayr’s vocal writing is quite operatic, with elaborate vocal lines.

The cast, under Franz Hauk, respond magnificently. The recording is based on forces from Ingoldstadt, who have contributed other Mayr recordings on Naxos. All five young singers are highly commendable and deal with Mayr’s more elaborate passage-work in neat, bravura fashion. Judith Spiesser is firm voiced as Raguel, Sara’s father, though inevitably she sounds in no way masculine. Anna, Raguel’s wife, is the dignified Margriet Buchberger with Cornelia Hauk as Sara, their daughter. Hauk has a very personable voice with a slight mezzo-ish cast to it. Tobias is played in dignified fashion by Stefanie Iranyi, and her firm voiced control does not shirk when it comes to the more elaborate passages. Tobias and Sara’s duets are a total delight. Finally we have Susanne Bernhard as a bright toned Archangel Raphael.

Generally the cast respond well to the music, though there are odd moments when it is obvious that slightly too much care is being taken with the vocal lines. This, however, in no way inhibits the charm which characterises this performance.

Franz Hauk directs with a firm but gentle hand, getting decent performances out of his choir and orchestra. Hauk has prepared the performing edition for this performance, having done quite a bit of detective work to track down the overture…This is a charming piece, charmingly performed. It is by no means a masterpiece, but if you view it as a comic opera manqué, then it is a delight.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2009

My customary coolness towards little-known 18th century oratorio has been swept aside by Simon Mayr’s, Tobiae matrimonium (The Marriage of Tobias), its inclination towards opera being a contributory factor. A native of Bavaria, Mayr lived in Italy during his early twenties, first in Venice, and later moving to Bergamo where he continued his substantial output as a composer in many genres, much aimed at the church. On his death in 1845 his catalogue numbered 1510 works, but with Beethoven and his contemporaries having already emerged, Mayr was soon forgotten. Tobias dates from 1794 and marked the beginning of his career as an opera composer. I will not detail the torturous route by which we arrive at the performing edition by Franz Hauk, the disc’s conductor, as that takes over a page of small type in the accompanying booklet. Suffice it to say that the story is biblical and taken from the Book of Tobias, and tells of the marriage between Tobias and Sara, though the young woman seems to be possessed of the devil, seven of her husbands having been killed on their wedding night. That the vivacious, pretty and often lightweight music does not match the words was not uncommon in that era, with composers often borrowing from their other works to save time. It follows operatic convention and is cast in a series of arias and ensemble pieces, with choruses appearing at the opening and close. It has moments that are quite dramatic both vocally and in the orchestral part, and if you want to sample go to track 7 on the second disc, where the aria for Sara has the most attractive use of harp in the accompaniment. Judith Spiesser, as Sara’s mother, Raguel, is not always in the centre of every note, but otherwise the singing—all female—is very good, particularly so from the Austrian soprano, Cornelia Horak, as Sara. Hauk directs from the harpsichord and has a fine orchestra this is formed just for the performance of Mayr’s works. Good sound quality in a tamed church acoustic. Synopsis included and libretto translation is on Naxos website.

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