Mayr: Ginevra di Scozia

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mayr
LABELS: Opera Rara
WORKS: Ginevra di Scozia
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Vidal, Daniela Barcellona, Antonino Siragusa; Giuseppe Verdi Teatro Lirico Chorus & Orchestra, Trieste/Tiziano Severini
CATALOGUE NO: ORC 23

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Simon Mayr’s Ginevra di Scozia caused a sensation when it opened the Trieste Teatro Lirico in 1801. Thirty years later it had disappeared, resurfacing only for the theatre’s bicentennial celebrations in 2001.

The plot – the episode from Ariosto set by Handel in Ariodante – throws up strong situations and memorable characters. In the booklet, Jeremy Commons stresses Mayr’s theatrical insight and command of large scene complexes; and at its best the music – somewhere between Mozart and Rossini in idiom – shows real dramatic imagination.

But, as even Commons admits, Mayr’s judgement can falter. Some of the invention is just too amiable for the characters’ extreme plights; and too often the tension sags at key moments. Still, there is plenty to enjoy in the elegant and jaunty melodies and the rich orchestration, with its lavish instrumental obbligatos.

Mayr’s vocal lines demand virtuoso singing. And except for the pantomime-dame countertenor of Marco Lazzara, the all-Italian cast does the composer proud. Antonino Siragusa is an urbanely reptilian Polinesso, Luca Grassi fields a noble basso cantante as the King, and mezzo Daniela Barcellona makes an intense and imperious Ariodante.

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Best of all is Elizabeth Vidal as Ginevra, plangent in her lyrical music and soaring into the ionosphere with fearless panache. Despite rough edges in the playing, Tiziano Severini conducts with terrific brio and conviction. Few people today would rave about Mayr’s operas as Bellini once did. But, like the composer’s Medea in Corinto, Ginevra proves well worth rescuing from oblivion. Richard Wigmore