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JS Mayr: Alfredo il Grande

Marie-Luise Dressen et al; Simon Mayr Chorus; Members of the Bavarian State Opera Chorus; Concerto de Bassus/Franz Hauk (Naxos)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

JS Mayr
Alfredo il Grande
Marie-Luise Dressen, Markus Schafer, Daniel Ochoa, Anna Feith, Sophia Karber, Philipp Polhardt; Simon Mayr Chorus; Members of the Bavarian State Opera Chorus; Concerto de Bassus/Franz Hauk
Naxos 8.660483-84   156:24 mins (2 discs)


A key event from the life of Alfred the Great – no, not the cakes! – is the subject of Johann Simon Mayr’s late opera Alfredo il Grande. It’s given its world-premiere recording here as part of Naxos’s growing survey of the early 19th-century composer whose prolific output (some 70 operas) has sunk into obscurity, not least due to the ensuing operatic force that was Rossini, despite the interplay and influence between Mayr’s work and the Italian’s.

Playing out on the Somerset Levels, albeit with a slightly geographically-puzzling chorus of ‘mountain dwellers’, the plot sees future king Alfred the Great in heavy disguise, dodging war-mongering Danes en route to the throne, whilst rescuing true love Alsvita from the clutches of Danish leader, Gutrumo.

Dramatically Act II comes off better than Act I, although musically things are sometimes a little homogenous, if with sparks of determined originality, in Mayr’s German/Italian marriage of classicism and lyricism. Elfrido’s Act II aria, ‘Ov’e la bella vergine’, is one of the best known, with a chamber-like quality in the unusual combination of cello, violin, cor anglais, clarinet, horn and harp, sung tenderly by Marie-Luise Dressen. The harpsichord, too, is a sonic wildcard, an intermittent comedic device that also comes in for a battering as it mimics the sound of street fighting in Alinda’s recitative ‘Cresce il tumulto’ (a likeable Anna Feith).

The young cohorts of the Simon Mayr Chorus (with members of the Bavarian State Opera) and the Concerto de Bassus do fine work with the monumental choruses under conductor Franz Hauk, who keeps things moving in this early melodrama. Of the likeable soloists, Markus Schafer’s Gutrumo brings welcome dramatic colour and vitality.

Sarah Urwin Jones

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