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Giovanni Simone Mayr.

This semiannual column presents reviews of significant video releases of interest to the field of music and to music libraries, as well as occasionally providing review essays and briefly noting other interesting titles. All genres of music in all video formats will be covered, with a preference given to those in DVD. All Web sites accessed 31 March 2013.

Giovanni Simone Mayr. Medea in Corinto. DVD. Ivor Bolton / Orchestra and Chorus of Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Directed by Hans Neuenfels. With Nadja Michael, Ramon Vargas, Alek Shrader, Elena Tsallagova, Alistair Miles. Halle/Saale, Germany: Arthaus Musik, 2011. 101 578. $39.99.

Gaetano Donizetti. Marino Faliero. DVD. Bruno Cinquegrani / Orchestra and Chorus of the Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donizetti. Directed by Marco Spada. With Giorgio Surian, Rachele Stanisci, Ivan Magri, Luca Grassi. Hong Kong: Naxos, 2011. 2.110616-17. $39.99.

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 tide 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 Ramon 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 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 the Donizetti Festival in the composer's home town of Bergamo.

The technical quality of the production and video presentation is very fine. The unit set is attractive and unobtrusive, and the costumes are authentically 14th century in design. The staging by Marco Spada is functional but does little more than keep the traffic flowing. Musically, the singing is professional, but with the possible exception of Giorgio Sudan in the title role the cast cannot be considered world class. Tenor Ivan Magri copes well with the high tessitura, but his sound is reedy. Soprano Rachele Stanisci has a steely sound which turns harsh and unattractive in the upper register, and her pitch is not always accurate. Baritone Luca Grassi fares better, but his voice is a bit wooly, especially in his opening aria. If this were the only production of Marino Faliero available on DVD any concerns would be moot. There is however another production from Parma released six years earlier (Hardy Classics, HCD 4025) with a much stronger cast that vocally is preferable to this one, but the lighting levels were not adjusted for filming and the singers are lost in the shadows much of the time. Visually, this Bergamo production is preferable.

JOHN HOLLAND

Chicago Public Library

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Author:Holland, John
Publication:Notes
Article Type:Video recording review
Date:Aug 30, 2013
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