- Medea in Corinto by Giovanni Simone Mayr, and: Marino Faliero by Gaetano Donizetti
Ever since its rediscovery in the late 1960’s, Giovanni Simone Mayr’s Medea in Corinto has been hailed as a lost masterpiece yet has not managed to work its way even into the fringes of the repertoire. The German-born Mayr (1763–1845) is credited with bringing Viennese classicism to Italian opera and was the teacher of Gaetano Donizetti, as well as being an influence on Gioacchino Rossini and the developing bel canto style. Medea in Corinto is a late work, written for Naples in 1813, and is considered his masterpiece. The title role was created by Isabella Colbran and quickly became a favorite for Giuditta Pasta. This 2010 staging in Munich is the first at a major opera house since 1850 and is based on a critical edition of the score by Paolo A. Rossini.
Musically, this production holds its own against the handful of audio recordings that have appeared, although it is subjected to some cuts that no doubt derive from the staging concept, including many of the accompanied recitatives which were quite an innovation in Italian opera at this time. A mutilated reworking of the overture, arranged by conductor Ivor Bolton, appears as an interlude in Act I. Nadja Michael as Medea stands out for her fearless and utterly committed dramatic performance, and avoids the intonation problems that have marred some of her performances in the past. This is a very taxing role, demanding a wide and powerful range with frequent leaps from one extreme to the other, but Michael takes it in her stride. The role of Giasone is nearly as demanding but Ramón Vargas too does an admirable job. Alek Shrader has the most Rossinian voice of the cast, and tosses off the florid vocal writing for Egeo beautifully. Elena Tsallagova and Alastair Miles offer able support as Creusa and Creonte.
The deciding point for many viewers will be the staging by infamous Regietheater director Hans Neuenfels. Taking his cue from the eloquently tragic music Mayr wrote for Medea, Neuenfels has chosen to show us that the Corinthians were far more monstrous than a despairing mother killing her own children. The curtain goes up in darkness with a bloodcurdling scream. We then are treated to gang rapes, sacrificial virgins, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and countless executions. A little of this goes a long way, and nearly all of it upstages the principal singers. What is never explained visually or in the notes is the costuming of Egeo, Creonte, and Ismene in clothing of Mayr’s time while everyone else is in modern dress. The DVD [End Page 160] includes a 30 minute “making of” documentary in which Alastair Miles admits that Neuenfels never explained to him why he had to play Creonte as a hunchback. The technical quality is superb although the orchestra sometimes overbalances the singers. This is recommended as the only option for a video recording of this fascinating opera, but it may not be the best way for newcomers to learn it.
Marino Faliero was Donizetti’s fiftieth opera, commissioned by Rossini for Paris but somewhat overshadowed by Rossini’s other commission that season – Bellini’s I Puritani. It is a dark work about an historical doge of Venice who was executed as a traitor, and defies tradition by giving the principal role to the bass, while the soprano and tenor roles are secondary in dramatic and musical importance. It managed to stay in the international repertoire through the 19th century, but was forgotten until 1966. This performance, based on a “critical revision” by Maria Chiara Bertieri, was presented in 2008 at...