Notes and Editorial Reviews
It was Simon Mayr then who was responsible for the cautious conversion of late eighteenth-century opera to that of the early nineteenth century at a time when opera seria had been reduced to a simple formula: in acting as mediator between the opera seria of the eighteenth century and the melodramma of the nineteenth, he promoted new tone colours through his treatment of the orchestra, instrumentation and harmony, drawing on his background knowledge of German music and Viennese classicism in particular. He did as much to create a school through his own compositions as through his teaching in Bergamo. French opera too exerted an influence on Mayr and his contemporaries in this field, especially in the form of the opéra-comique, and the
farsa sentimentale, which it strongly influenced. During the first decade of the nineteenth century, this complete transformation was effected peaceably and with restraint and took hold at an irregular pace according to the musical taste of a city or, more precisely, its theatre; the somewhat conservative North stood in contrast to the more progressive, French influenced Naples in the South; the names of composers such as Paër, Pucitta, Nicolini, Pavesi, Generali and the two Moscas should be mentioned in this connection along with Mayr’s.
Thus a musical style was able to form that would become an essential ingredient of opera, so to speak, for the next couple of decades: it was the same style that resulted from the distillation of various personal styles of the time, which Gioachino Rossini prescribed and made his own as a budding composer around 1810. By way of illustration, we may take the crescendo, thought of as typically Rossinian, but is already present in the early operas of Mayr; the rhythmic patterns so characteristic of Rossini’s opera in the form of simple repeated chords with a certain ‘spring’ to the melodic line, are already quite clearly present in the genre before Rossini, just as nineteenth-century stylistics were being formed. Works belonging to the opera seria genre, such as Ginevra di Scozia and Adelasia ed Aleramo, or L’avaro or L’amor coniugale in the buffa/farsa/ semiseria genre, already exhibit all the characteristics commonly associated with Rossini, but at the time just prior to Rossini’s making a name for himself as a composer of operas. Nonetheless, the bestowing of a valid form that was both spontaneous and enduring on a musical language that developed gradually, whilst vacillating between the old and new, should remain to Rossini’s credit.
This pre-Rossinian style glistens throughout L’amor coniugale too. Gaetano Rossi wrote the libretto of this archetypal pièce de sauvetage (rescue opera) following the libretto for Jean Nicolas Bouilly’s opéra-comique, Léonore, ou L’Amour conjugal, set by Pierre Gaveaux, and originally performed in Paris in 1798. Mayr’s opera based on the story of Leonora takes its place between two other operas on the same subject, after Paër’s Leonora ossia L’amor coniugale (Dresden, 1804) and shortly before Beethoven’s Leonore (Vienna, 1805), the first version of his Fidelio. Admittedly, the librettist transposed the plot - presumably based on real events during the turmoil of the French Revolution - to the still exotic setting of seventeenth-century Poland according to the fashion of the time for things Polish: settings of the Lodoiska story, by Cherubini and Mayr respectively, served as models here; he also changed the names of the protagonists. Thus the soprano rôle of Leonore/Fidelio became Zeliska/Malvino; her imprisoned husband Florestan mutated into a singing Amorveno (tenor), Rocco the jailer is now called Peters (bass); in addition, we find Floreska (formerly Marzellina), Peter’s daughter (soprano), Moroski (formerly Piz(z)arro), the governor (bass) and Amorveno’s brother, Ardelao (tenor). Particularly noticeable from the point of view of dramaturgy are: the condensing of the original French drama into a single act; the cutting of the rôle of Jaquino/Giachino; the rewriting of the rôle of the minister, Don Fernando, to become Amorveno’s brother Ardelao required by the censors; and also the efforts made by the librettist, Rossi, to make a shift in emphasis from the revolutionary plot focussing on the theme of liberation and the concept of freedom that dominates at least Fidelio, Beethoven’s final version, to one of personal conflict and inter-personal relationships.
Having given L’amor coniugale resounding acclaim, the eminent Mayr expert, John Stewart Allitt who died recently, wrote in the programme for the 2004 Wildbad performance of L’amor coniugale:
“Mayr was working in the theatrical tradition of Galuppi, Goldoni and others. His music, however, stands within a different frame of reference: it is both dramatic and lyrical - as soon as the prison scene begins, there is a series of thrilling ensembles. Notice how Zeliska throws herself in front of her husband to save him from the shot! The scene is modelled on Mozart’s suicide scene from Così fan tutte (…) Mayr orchestrates the spinning process with the simplest of means as Floreska sings a catchy tune whilst seated at her spinning-wheel. Floreska’s father, Peters, assumes the buffo aspect of the entertainment described as ‘farsa sentimentale’ or ‘opera semiseria’, and in this way negotiates the seriousness of the prison scene. His humour is that of an ordinary man who simply fulfils his duty. This is in stark contrast to Zeliska’s dutiful seriousness in the beautiful cantabile ‘Caro oggetto d’un affetto’ that follows, which then develops into an equally beautiful trio. Note here how Mayr takes the earnest Floreska into the aria in which she expresses her feelings for Zeliska convinced that she is a man. Her love is simple, like a first awakening (…). To prevent Peters’ buffo aria being perceived as an anti-climax to the scene, it should be borne in mind that the opera belongs to the category of farsa, and as such requires a counterbalance to the previous dramatic outbursts of emotion. In conclusion, I would like to direct the reader’s attention to one last detail, as this is a work that encourages us to engage and make our own discoveries as active listeners. Surely everyone will find that he has already heard the ballad Zeliska sings in Scene 14 before. The theme is famous as Rossini’s aria from Cenerentola, sung as she wipes the floor, forlorn of hope. Why did Rossini borrow Mayr’s melody? Perhaps because she is similarly trapped and calls for her beloved to hear her lament and set her free. At that time, composers frequently quoted from each other, but always for one particular reason: if, for example, Moroski climbs down into the dungeon, a corresponding quotation will remind us of Don Giovanni. This is exactly what poets such as T.S. Eliot did from time to time. The music is therefore imbued with a certain quality of sound, and Mayr does quote from the best music of his time, and from his models Haydn and Mozart in particular. He elaborated this to become a demonstration of quality in order to show the younger generation what ‘good’ music was, which he described as ‘reforming’ Italian music, from which Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and others were able to learn. This renaissance is an important aspect of our revaluation of Mayr, as it signifies the consummation of his early Venetian period.”
As it iridesces between external drama and inner sentiment, Mayr’s music is very nearly the archetypal semiseria or sentimental farsa of the period around 1800; but, while it certainly adopts characteristics of its French model to some extent, it does, however, retain Italian traditions of drama and structure by and large, and so reflects the different criteria necessary for its assessment. In this connection, attention should be drawn to the grand scale of the introduzione, as well as the finale in particular, both of which demonstrate the innovations of Rossi’s libretto regarding the more complex organization of the scene blocking.
It is the almost simultaneous but probably independent appearance in particular of operatic settings based on the story of Leonora by Paër, Mayr and Beethoven that has provided musicology with the incentive to analyse them comparatively. But on all accounts, it is Mayr and Rossi’s L’amor coniugale that represents the most self-contained adaptation of Bouilly’s original Leonora.
English version by Neil Coleman
Works on This Recording
L'amor coniugale by Giovanni Simone Mayr
Tatjana Charalgina (Soprano),
Dariusz Machej (Bass),
Giovanni Bellavia (Bass Baritone),
Cinzia Rizzone (Soprano),
Bradley Trammell (Tenor),
Francescoantonio Bille (Tenor)
Württemberg Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: by 1805; Italy
Length: 82 Minutes 57 Secs.
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