Donizetti: Pigmalione; Mayr: Che originali!
Bruno de Simone, Chiara Amarù, Leonardo Cortellazzi, Antonino Siragusa, Aya Wakizono; Orchestra dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala/Gianluca Capuano; dir. Roberto Catalano (Bergamo, 2017)
Dynamic CD: CDS7811.02; DVD: 37811; Blu-ray: 57811 107 mins
The master and his most celebrated pupil are reunited, although on the evidence of this recording it’s a moot point how much Giovanni Simone Mayr taught the budding Donizetti. Mayr’s Che Originali! is an old-fashioned one act farsa with a plot as ancient as time itself. Don Fabeo, an overbearing father obsessed with music, refuses to allow his daughter to marry her nobleman lover because he has a tin ear. Nevertheless, a pair of cunning servants save the day, the daughter and the marriage.
Echoes of Mozart, including direct quotation from Figaro, produce a work that resolutely looks backwards to the 18th century – although Che Originali! was first performed in 1798 only a decade before Rossini would spin Italian opera off in new directions. But the music is carefully carpentered and the cast, notably Chiara Amarù as the lovelorn daughter Aristea, make the best of it. Indeed the problem is not the score but the production. There’s too much plot and not enough plotting in director Roberto Catalano’s heavy-handed stage production. Better to stay with the CD and listen to, not look at, this production from the 2017 Bergamo Festival. Donizetti was just 19 when he composed Pigmalione and it was only premiered in 1960. Yet there are already hints of the master to come in what is effectively a dramatic cantata – the writing for the woodwinds, the use of the trombone, the scurrying strings and above all a gift for melody. Antonino Siragusa is magnificent as Pygmalion, begging the gods to bring his sculpture to life in a vocally demanding role. Aya Wakizono makes a touching Galatea – not that she has a great deal to do, although she does it decoratively. If the design nods towards Konzept-Oper with a wobbling mirror at the back of the stage, the drama holds firm. Frankly the pupil out-masters his teacher.