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ClassicsOnline Home » MAYR, J.S.: Arianna a Nasso [Cantata] (Horak, T.M. Allen, Simon Mayr Choir, Ingolstadt Georgian Chamber Orchestra, Hauk)
The Bavarian-born composer Simon Mayr spent his compositional life in Italy, spreading the influence of Viennese classicism whilst himself being influenced by prevailing Italian models. His cantata Arianna in Nasso (Ariadne on Naxos) was written for the leading soprano Isabella Colbran, who was later to marry Rossini. Her virtuosity inspired Mayr, and his cantata is a stirring example of vivid nature writing, refined pathos, and joyous celebration. Franz Hauk and the Simon Mayr Chorus and Ensemble are the world’s leading Mayr exponents and their recordings have received the highest critical acclaim.
By Henry Fogel
Simon Mayr (1763–1845)
Arianna in Nasso (Ariadne on Naxos)
Cantata in One Act
Libretto by Giovanni Schmidt
Arianna (Ariadne) – Cornelia Horak, Soprano
Bacco (Bacchus) – Thomas Michael Allen, Tenor
Chorus of the Followers of Theseus and of Bacchantes
Simon Mayr Chorus and Ensemble
Directed from the harpsichord by Franz Hauk
Born in the Bavarian town of Mendorf, near Ingolstadt, in 1763, Simon Mayr was the son of a schoolteacher and showed some early ability as a musician. He was a pupil at the Jesuit College in Ingolstadt, before entering the university to study theology, while continuing to demonstrate great versatility as a musician. His musical training, however, only began in earnest in 1787, when a patron, noticing his talent, took him to Italy. There, from 1789, he studied with Carlo Lenzi, master of the music at Bergamo Cathedral. There followed, through the generosity of another patron, a period of study with Bertoni in Venice. His early commissioned compositions were largely in the form of sacred oratorios, but in 1794 his opera Saffo was staged in Venice. His turning to opera owed much to the encouragement he received from Piccinni and Peter von Winter, and other operas followed for Venice and then for La Scala, Milan, and for other Italian theatres, with an increasingly large number of performances abroad. In 1802 he followed Lenzi as maestro di cappella at the cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, becoming director of the cathedral choir school three years later. Mayr held these positions until his death in 1845. As a teacher he won the particular respect of his pupil Gaetano Donizetti. He did much to promote the knowledge of the Viennese classical composers, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, in Italy. His own style reflects something of this, but essentially in an Italian context. He was, needless to say, immensely prolific as a composer, with nearly seventy operas to his credit between 1794 and 1824, and some six hundred sacred works.
Arianna in Nasso
The librettist Giovanni Schmidt
Federico Giovanni Schmidt was born around 1775 in Livorno (Leghorn) and went to Naples where he remained for the rest of his life. We know little about the date either of his birth, or even of his death, but it was probably after 1840. Giovanni Schmidt was an important opera librettist and between 1800 and 1845 he wrote more than 55 libretti, almost all for the most famous opera house in Naples, the Teatro San Carlo, where he was employed. Here he worked alongside Andrea Leone Tottola. These two librettists determined the formation and direction of operatic texts in Naples at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Giovanni Schmidt provided libretti for a range of composers including Giacomo Tritto, Giovanni Pacini, Giovanni Andreozzi—the so-called Jommellino, Ferdinando Paër, Vittorio Trento, Stefano Pavesi, Gioachino Rossini, Luigi Mosca, Nicola Antonio Manfroce, Pietro Raimondi, Valentino Fioravanti, Saverio Mercadante, Pietro Generali, Francesco Sampieri, Gaetano Donizetti, Dionisio Pagliani-Gagliardi and not least Simon Mayr.
The architect Antonio Niccolini and the new theatre of San Carlo in Naples
Initially the ‘classicist’ Antonio Niccolini came to Naples in 1807 as a set designer at the San Carlo and del Fondo theatres. From 1816 he worked as architect at the royal court (Architetto della Real Casa), from 1817 as professor at the School of Scenography and from 1822 as director of the Institute of Fine Arts in Naples. Giuseppe Cammaranoʼs ceiling fresco for the new Teatro San Carlo was based on Niccoliniʼs blueprints. The rebuilt theatre was ceremonially inaugurated on 12 January 1817, the birthday of Ferdinand I, with a performance of Simon Mayrʼs cantata Il sogno di Partenope (Partenopeʼs Dream) a melodramma allegorico. Isabella Colbran sang the title-rôle.
The soprano Isabella Colbran
Not only did Simon Mayr write the cantata Il sogno di Partenope for the Spanish soprano Isabella Colbran but he tailor-made for her his cantata Arianna in Nasso (Ariadne on Naxos). The range of her expressive voice was almost three octaves. Colbran was the star of Domenico Barbaiaʼs opera company and it was he who first recognized her voice and stage presence. “This first man in the kingdom, theatre director and gambler promoted Mlle Colbrand, his leading lady, who teased him all day long and consequently had him on a tight rein. Mlle Colbrand, who today is Madame Rossini, was one of the finest singers in Europe from 1806 to 1815.” (Stendhal, Rossini).
Even the critical Stendhal—he mostly called her ʻColbrand ʼ—must have acknowledged the singerʼs importance. “Signora Colbran is generally pleasing” Mayr wrote from Venice to his friend the tenor Francesco Fiorini on 17 January 1810. She sang many parts in works by Mayr until, having been Barbaiaʼs mistress, she married Rossini in 1822. Mayr also originally conceived the rôle of Athalia for her.
The affluent Isabella Colbran was useful to the composer Rossini not only for her musical qualities but also for one specific asset. Stendhal wrote: “Before his marriage to Mlle Colbrand, who generated twenty thousand pounds in earnings for him, Rossini bought himself only two tailcoats a year.” (Stendhal, Rossini).
On the mythology
The Greek god Dionysus or Bacchus (his Roman counterpart) was regarded as the conqueror of Asia who, according to Euripides, returned to Thebes after he gained Lydia. He planned a peaceful invasion and civilization of the east. In what was in essence a triumphal procession the god and his followers overcame even India, the end of the known world, with his thyrsus instead of spears, and with ceremonialinstead of battle-music. It was there that he introduced wine and his good deeds.
Dionysusʼs meeting with the Cretan princess Ariadne has been used time and again in works of literature, as for example in Ovid. The daughter of Minos had helped the young Athenian Theseus to slay the Minotaur and to find his way out of the labyrinth where the monster dwelt. After that she had fled with Theseus but he then abandoned her on Naxos which was also the favourite island of Dionysus. It was on Naxos that Dionysus encountered the lamenting Ariadne, fell in love immediately and married her. As a wedding gift Ariadne received a crown of jewels which after her death went up into heaven as a constellation. Ariadne herself led Dionysus out of Hades onto Mount Olympus where she became a goddess.
The two-part Sinfonia, which Mayr also used in his opera Le due Duchesse (1814), begins with the premier coup dʼarchet, a fortissimo chord with the famous ascending rocket figure in the strings . In the introduction two alternating menʼs choruses sing of the terrible fate of the sleeping Ariadne: the sailors prepare for their departure from the island of Naxos. The choruses join forces in ʻResta innocente vittimaʼ; with triplets in the violins set against semiquaver tremolandi in the violas and an up-and-down rowing motion in the basses, Mayr memorably describes in music the ship, caught in the swell of the sea, receding further and further from the shore and disappearing, pianissimo, into the distance . A unison note on the trombones, flickering rhythms in the strings and repeated general pauses illustrate the abandoned Ariadneʼs bad dreams. The nightmare becomes a reality; sorrow, pain and a desire for revenge pervade Ariadneʼs soul, and her recitative ends with the cry ʻIo son tradita!ʼ (I have been betrayed!) . The following aria increases her emotions to breaking-point; it begins in G minor with syncopations and sighing motives but then, as often happens with Mayr, it goes into sixteen bars in G major, and touches on E flat major and C minor without ever losing the sombre agitato character of the music. The end of the aria, performed in a triple piano, depicts Ariadne, powerless and overcome with grief .
New Scene: A march in E major , beginning quietly and becoming gradually louder, with sections in the minor, signals a change of mood: a ship appears on the horizon and a lively chorus in 6/8 is heard . On board the ship is Bacchus, the son of Zeus, who is heading for Naxos following his peaceful conquest of the eastern world. Bacchus is presented as the emperor of pleasure and geniality, not as the bringer of the clangour of war . Music, dance and pleasure take centre stage in the substantial twopart aria and chorus to his companions which Mayr writes for him . Recitative: As Bacchus ponders why fate has brought him straight to this island his men discover the sleeping Ariadne. Bacchus is immediately aroused by her beauty. On waking up Ariadne seeks to end her life. Unable to find a sword she tries to throw herself into the sea; impulsive runs in the music symbolize both her despair and the lightning flashing in her mindʼs eye; triplets in the strings remind her of the furtive departure of the unfaithful Theseus. At the last moment Bacchus restrains the despairing Ariadne: ʻIl passo arrestaʼ . In the duet that follows, in A flat, the ‘key of love’, Bacchus is seen seeking the favour of Ariadne, who thinks she is dreaming, and gradually takes fresh hope. The second part of the duet, in a quick 2/4 time, describes in virtuoso passages in thirds and sixths the burgeoning attraction between the two . Ariadne, a mere mortal, cannot understand why she should be loved by a god, yet he calms her and calls his friends to celebrate . Men and women from the godʼs entourage cheer Ariadne –. There follows a three-part aria with chorus in which Ariadne sings of her happiness in the times to come. The appearance of a solo harp imbues the scene with a quasi-religious aura; heaven and earth come together in the love of Bacchus and Ariadne . The finale is a short, joyous celebration of farewell .
English version by David Stevens
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MAYR, J.S.: Arianna a Nasso [Cantata] (Horak, T.M....