OP0638. CHE ORIGINALI! (Johann Simon Mayr), recorded 1998, w.Franz Hauk Cond. Georgisches Kammerorchester; Thomas Gropper, Stefanie Früh, Gisela Gropper, Stephen Caira, Robert Merwald, etc. (England) 2-Guild 7167/68, w.Elaborate 95pp. Libretto-Brochure in Italian & English. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 795754716726
“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 happend 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 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. 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.
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. The glory of the entertainment is its set-pieces, in particular the set-piece ensembles. Don Febeo instructing Aristea is masterly, as is the ‘dictation’ quintet 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 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, the whole of the Maestro Semiminima episode treated in one seamless, 20-minute ensemble.
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.”
- Richard Osborne