The Opera Quarterly 20.1 (2004) 136-138
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|Ginevra: Elizabeth Vidal||Il Gran Solitario: Damiano Locatelli|
|Ariodante: Daniela Barcellona||Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Lirico|
|Polinesso: Antonino Siragusa||"Giuseppe Verdi" Trieste|
|King of Scotland: Luca Grassi||Tiziano Severini, conductor|
|Dalinda: Giuseppina Piunti||Opera Rara (distributed by Harmonia Mundi)|
|Lurcanio: Marco Lazzara||ORC 23 (3 CDs)|
|Vafrino: Aldo Orsolini|
A native of Bavaria, son of an organist, and a student of theology, Johannes Simon (Giovanni Simone) Mayr (1763-1845) was a prodigy who mastered virtually all the instruments of the orchestra by the time he reached twenty. He completed his musical studies in Italy, where he lived and taught (mainly in Bergamo) from 1787 to the end of his days. Donizetti was his most famous pupil. The two of them both found their final resting place in the cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, where I visited some twenty years ago.
Mayr wrote more than sixty operas, beginning with Saffo in 1794. Not all of his operatic inspirations were original: he composed Lodoïska, Le due giornate, and Medea in Corinto (his best-known work) after Cherubini's settings of these same subjects. More interestingly, he introduced his L'amor coniugale in 1805, the very year Beethoven produced Fidelio, inspired by the same Bouilly drama. Mayr remained active in Bergamo's musical life to the end, organizing performances of works by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. It soon became evident that his command of orchestration was influenced by these masters of the Austro-German school. (This was not always to the liking of Italian commentators, who would have preferred more Italianate vocal melodies from this respected composer.) Ginevra di Scozia established Mayr in the front line of Italian opera composers, and this particular work retained a hold in Italian theaters for thirty years until its last documented performance in Palermo in 1831. During those three decades of fame, some of Italy's most celebrated singers appeared in this opera. Opera Rara's 2001 revival, recorded live in the revision of Marco Beghelli, took place in Trieste, where Ginevra was originally introduced in 1801.
The libretto is based on an episode in Ariosto's Orlando furioso, treating events virtually identical to Handel's Ariodante. Ginevra, daughter of the king [End Page 136] of Scotland, is in love with Ariodante, an Italian knight. His jealous rival Polinesso, duke of Albany, hatches an evil plot that compromises Ginevra's virtue and causes her to be sentenced to death. Believing in the circumstances that support the accusation, Ariodante seeks death himself. But he reemerges in the third act, in disguise, to appear as Ginevra's champion and, Lohengrin-like, defeats Polinesso in combat. The end brings forgiveness and general rejoicing.
The original Ginevra, Teresa Bertinotti Radicati, is described in the CD booklet annotations as a spectacularly gifted soprano all too willing to dazzle audiences with her uncommon range and technique. "Spectacular" is also a good description of what Elizabeth Vidal does with the role here. Her first-act aria, "Quest'anima consola," calls for a high E-natural, a note she triumphantly repeats three times in the opera's concluding scene. The role's vocal challenges rival those of Mozart's Queen of the Night, but the music goes on much longer. It seems unjust to ask for a higher degree of textual clarity under such arduous circumstances, but that is my only reservation about Vidal's singing. (It is unfortunate that in the copious notes of the hundred-page booklet accompanying this recording no room was found to include some background information about Vidal and her colleagues.)
The original Ariodante was the male alto Luigi Marchesi, another rather exhibitionistic artist. In Beghelli's reconstruction the part is given to mezzo Daniela Barcellona, who is happier in the higher reaches than in the alto register. Nonetheless, she reveals a rich tone and interprets with intelligent musicality what appears to be a moderately ornamented vocal line. In Ariodante's cantabile "Ma più del trionfo" the chorus is too loud; in her despairing aria "Ah...