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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The farsa sentimental, an amalgamation of opera buffa and opera seria into what might be described as opera semiseria, arrived in the 1790s, and it is into this category that Mayr’s L’amor coniugale slips neatly. More remarkable is its plot, derived from the same source as Beethoven’s Fidelio, which it pre-dates, arriving in Dresden in 1804, shortly before Beethoven’s Leonora. However, Mayr’s libretto places the action in 17th-century Poland. The characters are much the same as in Beethoven’s opera, only with different names. The soprano role of Leonora is exchanged for Zeliska; her imprisoned husband Florestan becomes the tenor role, Amorveno. Rocco the gaoler is now Peters; his daughter is now Floreska and the governor is Moroski. The narrative however is sentimentalized. Amorveno is in prison and left to starve to death, as the governor wants to seduce his wife who, although in disguise, is no longer the heroic rescuer, and the plot is resolved (after a modest brass fanfare) by the appearance of Ardelao (the hero’s brother) who arrives after neither gaoler nor governor is willing to kill their prisoner. However weak the plot, the music itself has much charm, and it is most enjoyably sung by all concerned, with Cinzia Rizzone a delightful Zeliska. The style of the writing is pre-Rossini and the engaging quartet, ‘Ah voi’, which celebrates the resolution of the story, might almost be by Donizetti. Christopher Franklin directs the piece with plenty of life and sparkle, and the Württemberg Philharmonic Orchestra play stylishly. The recording is excellent and the only reservation (and it is a big one) is that the accompanying notes, while allotting more than three pages to the background to the opera and its composer, give just over half a page to a synopsis which is not cued to the individual numbers. Even so, this is easy to enjoy.

John Warrack
Gramophone, July 2008

Léonore No 3 – no, not the Beethoven – makes a fascinating discovery

Beethoven was the fourth composer to set Bouilly's play Léonore, after Gaveaux (1798), Paer (1804) and Mayr (1805). This first recording of Mayr joins Peter Maag's 1979 Decca of Paer; only Gaveaux now remains unrecorded. Greater interest is beginning to attach to these "pre-Fidelio" works: Paer's dramma semiserio is being revived by Bampton Opera this summer, and this recording is taken from a performance in the 2004 Wildbad Rossini festival.

Librettist Gaetano Rossi moved the action to 17th-century Poland. Otherwise the story is similar to the version used by Beethoven, the chief difference being that Moroski (the "Pizarro" figure) has imprisoned Amorveno ("Florestan") so as to pursue his wife Zeliska ("Leonore"). Unable to bring himself to shoot Zeliska at the crisis, Moroski is then left in the finale with a vengeance aria that comes dramatically too late in the opera, though Giovanni Bellavia goes at it with a will. He makes rather more of his music than Dariusz Machej, the "Rocco" figure, whose Gold aria is relocated to a cynical outburst in the dungeon. There is much dungeon singing, even a charming Romance for Zeliska improbably inserted to see if Amorveno recognises her voice. Cinzia Rizzone sings this winningly; she has previously done well with the finest aria in the opera, an extended number mourning the absence of her husband that takes her up to some effective top Cs. Amorveno himself is a little strained, with his solo aria, an attractive piece strikingly scored with two cors anglais and a violin obbligato.

There is some fluent and imaginative music here, even if fluency sometimes overtakes imagination. Christopher Franklin, using a version of the handsome score loyally published by Mayr's adopted city of Bergamo, draws lively playing from his orchestra (there is no chorus). A long booklet essay by Thomas Lindner (no text or translation) makes out the best case for the work, an attractive one and certainly of more than curiosity interest.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2008

Simon Mayr had the ill-fortune of finding L’amor coniugale produced in the same year as Beethoven’s Fidelio, the two composers finding they had used the same story. Composing in a fashion belonging to a previous generation, Mayr’s score quickly faded from the repertoire, only resurfacing in the 1970’s as part of a reappraisal of the German-born composer. A native of Bavaria, Mayr’s artistic inclinations took him to live in Italy during his early twenties, first in Venice, but later moving to Bergamo. There he became a teacher and embarked on his massive output as a composer in many genres, much aimed at the church where he could be assured of performances. On his death in 1845 his catalogue numbered 1510 works, and after a century of neglect a new wave of interest for his music has recently emerged. His operatic output came mainly from the years 1794 to 1820, L’amor coniugale premiered in Padua in 1805 to a highly enthusiastic audience. In the tradition of early Mozart, the work is a series of recitatives and arias, the chamber-sized orchestra underpinning rather than contributing. It is a short one-act opera here lasting only 83 minutes, with a modest Sinfonia to open the work. Though the idea is basically the same, there is musically very little in common with Fidelio, the part of the faithful wife, known as Malvino, here given to a coloratura soprano who is offered a show of virtuosity that would hardly come from the young boy of the story. Mayr sets the drama in Poland, with the prisoner, Amorveno, unjustly convicted to death so that the Prison Governor, Moroski, can further his passion for Amorveno’s wife, Zeliska. She has taken the disguise of Malvino so that she can work in the prison where Amorvano is held, and it is when Moroski prepares for the execution of her husband that Malvino reveals that she is Zeliska in disguise. Moroski now must murder her before he can carry out the sentence. However evil, Moroski, cannot kill her and allows the husband and wife to reunite, his fate sealed when Amorveno’s brother arrives to condemn Moroski. The performance comes from the 2004 ‘Rossini in Wildbad’ festival in a performing edition by Florian Bauer. It is little surprise that Cinzia Rizzone has become a leading exponent of Bellini, her agile and fluid voice well schooled to handling the vocal acrobatics of Malvino’s role. Her aria ‘Rendi il consorte amato’ is the highlight of the performance, and by comparison the young tenor, Francescantonio Bille, sounds very tight in his role of Amorveno, a quick vibrato not helping. Dariusz Machej sounds suitably rough hewn as the gaoler, while Giovanni Bellavia rather over-acts as Moroski, the character here emerging as an opera-buffo role. The Wurttemberg Philharmonic Orchestra play well for the much experienced American conductor, Christopher Franklin, the tempos pressing forward with admirable urgency. The engineers have placed the voices forward of the orchestra, stage noises at an absolute minimum. I just wish a way had been found to remove the tepid applause from a work worth hearing.

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