Donizetti/Mayr Double Bill in Bergamo

The annual festival in Bergamo organised by the Fondazione Donizetti has an interesting programme combining opera and concerts with other events. It focuses on unearthing unfamiliar works by the composer who was born in the town and those of his contemporaries. Of the latter, Giovanni Simone Mayr is prominent since, although a German, he moved to Bergamo, established a music academy there and exerted a major influence on Donizetti’s development. His Che originali! is a one-act musical farce with a rather silly plot: a father obsessed with music will only let his daughter be wed to someone who will devote his life to music; and the young amorato, like the Count in Rossini’s Barber, with the help of a wily servant has to adopt disguises to gain access to the girl.

Mayr’s score is lively and tuneful and, alongside some inventive arias, contains ensembles that could be mistaken for those of Mozart. It was given an excellent performance by Gianluca Capuano and the Orchestra dell’Accademia of La Scala. The singers too acquitted themselves well. Two of them stood out. As the irascible father, the experienced buffo Bruno de Simone impressed with his impeccable articulation and vocalisation on the one hand and unexaggerated physiognomic characterisation on the other. In the role of his lovelorn daughter, mezzo soprano Chiara Amarù has the advantage of a rich warm chest voice capable of caressing the phrases in the lower ranges of the vocal line, but also of moving seamlessly to pure high notes.

Robert Catalano’s production was engaging. Some of the stage business was excessive and not all of the gags came off, but the pace was right and the characterisation vivid. For a brief few moments, the audience was led to believe that a more serious undertone was to be accorded to the piece, since at the rear of the stage a tunnel-like perspective came in view revealing a waistcoated man in a hotel room. Mystifying at the time, it became clear only after the interval that this was a link to the second piece, Pigmalione, Donizetti’s scena dramattica, his first theatrical venture, written at the age of nineteen, but first performed only in 1960.

Certainly, an interesting curiosity, pointing the way forward to the musical style of his tragic operas, this nevertheless did not make a lasting impression. The work itself is short and consists mainly of Pygmalion’s musings on his own predicament, falling in love with one of his artistic creations. There is not much scope for dramatic action and Catalano’s decision to have the artist pacing up and down a bare hotel room did not succeed in bringing out any deeper meaning. In an effort, to raise the theatrical temperature, Antonino Siragusa pressed his tenor voice too hard; a more relaxed, reflective approach might have worked better. In the small role of Galatea, Aya Wakizono moved well and sang with feeling.