GMDD 7167/8 – Che Originali! by Simon Mayr

Georgisches Kammerorchester, Franz Hauk – Dirigent, Thomas Gropper, Stefanie Früh, Gisela Gropper, Stephen Caira, Anna-Maria Bogner, Robert Merwald, Jörn Eichler

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American Record Guide March/April 00  Page 146/147

Like many comic operas from the late 18th Century, Che Originali! (1798) was performed under various titles, including one that gives a pretty good idea of what it’s all about: Il Fanatico per la Musica. Musie is indeed an all- consuming matter for the well-to-do amateur, Don Febeo. Not only does he insist that his two daughters strive to become accomplished musicians, but he expects them to find talent- ed husbands as well. As luck would have it, daughter Aristea has her sights on Don Carolino, whose aristocratic status is no substitute for his paltry musical aptitude in her father’s eyes. It’s an amusing premise that allows this Venetian opera to refer to many composers, from Pergolesi to Haydn, even if the joke begins to wear a little thin by the end of the long single act. It is curious that aren’t any direct quotations from other composers-at least none that 1 caught-but the score abounds in musical parodies. And since Johann Simon Mayr was one of the leading opera seria composers in the decades before Rossini, it’s no surprise that the two-tempo rondo is well represented. Don Febeo calls the concluding section of his own rondo a cabaletta, even though the term doesn’t seem to have come into use until the 182Os; one wonders lf this is part of the original libretto or a later corruption. At any rate, Mayr’s music is stylish and well crafted, even if it does tend toward formulaic melodies. The lively writing for winds-a Mayr speciality aptly serves the musical subject matter.

For the most part, the performance is pleasant enough, but it never convinces you that Che Originali is a minor masterpiece. As Aristea, Stephanie Früh demonstrates a sound technique in her singing-lesson duel with Don Febeo; her sound is attractive, but her delivery is often nondescript. Thomas Gropper sings with more energy in conveying Don Febeo’s fussiness, and Robert Merwald shows good buffo skills as Biscroma, a Figaro-like figure who assists the Count in getting into the Febeo household. But the rough sounds of Stephen Caira’s tenor lend a new and unwanted dimension to Don Carolino’s lack of musicality. Jörn Eichier, who sings the servant Carluccio, sounds as if he’d have been a better choice for the tenor lead. The Georgian Chamber Orchestra plays well under Franz Hauk, who directs from the harpsichord. The keyboard support is welcome, but you wonder whether Hauk could have concentrated on moving the piece along with more verve had he entrusted the playing to someone else.

Audiophiile Audition –  21/03/2000

Johann Simon Mayr (1 763 -1845) was a leading figure in Italian opera in the Generation before Rossini. Born in Bavaria, he studied in Venice where he became thoroughly initialised, and spent most of his life as a composer and teacher in Bergamo; Donizetti was among his students. He produced symphonies, chamber music, 80 operas, and more than 600 sacred works, breaking no new paths but consistently writing music that was well-scored and tuneful Che Original!! is an early work, a one- act comic opera in 23 scenes that was premiered in Venice in 1798 and was performed often in Europe and the US (under various titles) in the early 19th century but has seldom been heard since. The libretto by Gaetano Rossi (based on a 1779 French farce) presents a foolish dilettante who is obsessed by opera, his two daughters who are bullied into becoming singers, a suitor who is rejected because he is not a musician, and two clever servants who see to it that everything ends happily. The text and music are witty, though the orchestration is not particularly imaginative; the arias, mostly set pieces in an already old-fashioned da capo form, include a number of very pretty tunes, with a delightful singing lesson scene and a lengthy and entertaining finale for full ensemble.

This 1998 performance–the work’s first and only recording–is generally satisfactory. The singers are not well-known (at least to me) but they all have good voices, and though they make little effort at characterisation (not that much is possible for these stock characters) they make nice sounds. Unfortunately, the orchestra is scrawny and unkempt, and Hauk’s leadership is too serious and slow-paced for a frothy farce like this. Even so, the result has considerable charm and is well worth hearing.
Alex Morin

Gramophone Awards Issue November 99

Mayr Che originali!

Text and translation included

A once hugely popular send-up of the goings-on of the operatic world by Simone Mayr makes its début on disc

If the shennanigans at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden had happtend 200 years ago we might even now be delighting in a scabrous one-act farsa featuring the principal players. True, discretion might have got the better part of valour, obliging composer and librettist to treat ‘types’ rather than individuals (‘You want employment, Signor Mayr?’) but what ‘types’ were here assembled! A bemused baron, a belligerent impresario, a clutch of warring women, a sinister fixer, an apoplectic chainsmoking editor, and an off-stage chorus of ‘arts experts’ and management consultants.

By the late eighteenth century, the sending up of the musical – and, more especially, the operatic – profession by the profession itself had become a fashionable diversion. The tantrums of prima donnas and the longueurs of Metastasian opera seria were the most obvious targets. (Gnecco’s La prova d’un opera seria, 1805, one of Malibran’s favourite operas, held the stage for the best part of 50 years.) Cimarosa, a pioneering subversive, took a preliminary pot-shot at the ‘maestro’ figure in Il maesera di cappella in the late 1780s and here, in this first-ever complete recording of Mayr’s Che originali! (1798), we see Mayr and his librettist, Gaetano Rossi, exploiting the bourgeois gentilhomme idea in their pillorying of the amateur melomane, Don Febeo.

The plot is uncomplicated. Don Febeo has two daughters, Aristea, who is besotted with the of Metastasio and in love with the musically inept Don Carolino, and the hypochondriac Rosina (very much a seconda donna role). Carolino’s expulsion from Febeo’s house on account of his musical ignorance causes him to return there, suitably disguised, first as Febeo’s musical amanuensis, a role in which, unsurprisingly, he is quickly unmasked, then as the famous maestro di cappella, Signor Semiminima. Conductors being less easy to rumble than amanuenses, the ruse works: long enough, at least, for Carolino to stage a bogus audition of Aristea and claim her hand in marriage.

Che originali! was a smash-hit in its day. Along with the not dissimilar I virtuosi (1801), it helped cement Mayr’s relationship with an Italian public that had yet to encounter the genius of Rossini. Musically and theatrically, Che originali! is bound to strike modern ears as being less than the sum of its parts. Bar by bar, the writing is robust and energetic, with some amusingly outré writing for the winds, but, taken as a whole, the piece lacks shape, and never quite strips for action in the way that even second-rank Rossini does. The glory of the entertainment is its set-pieces, in particular the set-piece ensembles. Don Febeo instructing Aristea (disc 1, track 10) in the art of singing A-E-I-O-U (shades of a similar scene in Molière’2 Le bourgeois gentilhomme) is masterly, as is the “dictation” quintet (disc 2, track3) in which Carolino tries and fails to take down from Febeo the new-fangled tonic sol-fa. The comedy is broader, the satirical intent plainer, in the operatic scene (disc 2, track 1) which Don Febeo himself has composed: a bizarre ‘Rondo’ on the theme of Don Quixote’s hopeless love for his Dulcinea. And there is the finale (disc 2, track 7), the whole of the Maestro Semiminima episode treated in one seamless, 20-minute ensemble.

Aristea was one of the favourite roles of Angelica Catalani; her farewell to the London stage in 1824 was Che Originali!. On the new Guild recording, the young soprano, Stefanie Früh (a Reri Grist pupil), comes through with flying colours. Though the opera is sung in generally idiomatic Italian, the cast is mainly made up of young alumni from Munich’s various music schools. Particularly fine is the young baritone, Robert Merwald, in the comprimario role of the servant, Biscroma. His biography lists an even smaller comprimario role, that of the gardener in Mozart’s Figaro, but here surely is a first-rate Figaro in the making? Thomas Gropper is a plausible Don Febeo, Stephen Caira a patchy Carolino. So well does he sing the later scenes that I was left wondering whether the strained quality of his singing in Carolino’s first encounter with his future father-in-law was a deliberate ploy. If so, it was a mistake.

Franz Hauk’s conducting is incisive, the playing of the Georgian Chamber Orchestra accomplished, the studio recording clear and well balanced. The accompanying booklet is a ramshackle affair editorially but it provides the text of this particular version, along with translations and sufficient background notes to be going on with. Like the opera, the booklet works – more or less – where it needs to work.
Richard Osborne