Notes and Editorial Reviews
ALALEONA Mirra - Juraj Valcuha, cond; Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni (Mirra); Julia Gertseva (Cecri); Hanna Schaer (Euriclea); Mario Malagnini (Pereo); Franck Ferrari (Ciniro); French Natl O; Maîtrise & Ch de Radio France; NAÏVE V 5001 (2 CDs: 82:12 ?) Broadcast: 11/21/2003
Dominico Alaleona (1881–1928) is now largely remembered as a musicologist and writer on musical aesthetics rather than as a composer. His book Studi sulla storia dell’oratorio musicale in Italia, published in 1908 and reissued in 1945 as Storia dell’oratorio musicale in Italia, has long been considered a standard work. More’s the pity. He was a well-schooled composer and choral director with over 600 works to his credit. His one opera, Mirra,
composed in 1912 at the encouragement of Toscanini, was finally mounted in Rome in 1920. Praised by such cognoscenti as Mascagni and Puccini, it was a critical, alas not a public, success. The fact that it is an interior drama—one not driven by overt stage action—left the verismo-hungering theatergoers of the time bewildered. Its musical language and structure largely eschews traditional Italian opera set pieces. The “story” is spun out in a Tristanesque arch of endless melody much as one finds in Bartók’s Bluebird’s Castle, composed in 1911. Its harmonic structure, though generally euphonious, can, from time to time, be as harmonically spiky as that found in Busoni’s (another musical philosopher) Doktor Faust, composed in 1916. Its story of unconsummated incest and its impact on the normal social demands, conventions, and rhythms of life undoubtedly also had something to do with its public rejection.
Alaleona concocted his own libretto based on the last two acts of a play of the same name by Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803), which in turn was based on a tale from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. As the opera opens in a richly pastoral mode, Mirra is about to wed Pereo but, torn by her secretly incestuous feelings for her father, Ciniro, King of Cypress, as weighed against her own ideals of purity, she finds that she is unable to follow through with the ceremony. A stunned and bewildered Perero subsequently commits suicide. Ciniro, dumbfounded by her actions, hangs a guilt trip on her by speculating as to Perero’s father’s grief over his loss caused by her shameful act. Mirra, over and over, pleads that she desires only death. When further pressed by her father, who declares that she has lost his love forever, she delivers a key line: “Oh happy is my mother! She at last will be permitted to die . . . at least . . . at your side.” She then grabs his dagger and kills herself.
The opera raises the eternal conflict that can’t fail but arise when one strives for spiritual purity from within the confines of one’s inescapable carnality. St. Augustine immediately comes to mind. Given Mirra’s angle of incest, the purveyors of our current psychobabel will undoubtedly have a field day with this opera. To its credit, Ovid’s/Alfieri’s/Alaleona’s story is richly metaphorical, chronicling, on a different level, a daughter’s coming of age when she finally transfers her love of her father to her future mate. Mirra’s inability to do so within the socially mandated timetable makes her a social pariah. And so it goes.
Alaleona was both a trained musician and a musicologist par excellence who delved deeply into the interrelationship between words and music. In this opera, subtleties abound. To cite one example: in act I, Pereo sings of his love for Mirra in the key of C Major. Mirra’s brief answer is in G flat Major—a tritone apart—harmonically signifying complete incompatibility. One need not be a student of musical theory to sense the feeling that arises from this harmonic manipulation. Alaleona hearkens back to Greek antiquity in his use of the chorus. In its consonant, diatonic, music, it becomes the voice of society—in act I praising the union between Mirra and Pereo, and, as the opera progresses, becoming the voice of “reason.”
After its 1920 premiere, Mirra slipped beneath the radar until its revival at Jesi, Italy, in 2002. This live Radio France performance was recorded on November 21, 2003. The sound is excellent for a live pickup. The orchestra, soloists, and choruses are more than equal to the tasks before them, and young Slovakian conductor Juraj Valcuha unerringly maintains the arch of this most challenging and subtle of scores.
Were this merely a substandard realization of a significant opera, it would have won my recommendation. Here, given its virtues, we have an effort that far transcends mere documentation.
William Zagorski, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Mirra by Domenico Alaleona
Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni (Soprano),
Julia Gersteva (Mezzo Soprano),
Hannah Schaer (Mezzo Soprano),
Mario Malagnini (Tenor),
Franck Ferrari (Baritone),
Luc Héry (Violin)
French National Radio Chorus,
Maîtrise de Radio France,
French National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1908-1912; Italy
Date of Recording: 11/21/2003
Length: 82 Minutes 12 Secs.
Notes: Composition written: Rome, Italy (1908 - 1912).
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