Ginevra di Scozia is an opera in two acts by Simon Mayr set to an Italian libretto by Gaetano Rossi based on Antonio Salvi's, Ginevra, principessa di Scozia, which in turn was adapted from Cantos 5 and 6 of Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. Ginevra di Scozia premiered on 21 April 1801 at the Regio Teatro Nuovo in Trieste to celebrate the inauguration of the new theatre. The story is virtually identical to that of Handel's Ariodante which shares the same source for the libretto
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast |
21 April 1801
|Ginevra, daughter of the King of Scotland||soprano||Teresa Bertinotti|
|Ariodante, an Italian soldier prince, betrothed to Ginevra||soprano castrato||Luigi Marchesi|
|Polinesso, Duke of Albany, Ariodante's rival||tenor||Giacomo David|
|Dalinda, attendant on Ginevra, secretly in love with Polinesso||soprano||Angiola Pirovani-Bianchi|
|Re di Scozia, King of Scotland||bass|
|Lurcanio, Ariodante's brother||tenor||Gaetano Bianchi|
|Vafrino, Ariodante's squire||tenor||Pietro Righi|
|Gran Solitario, a hermit||bass|
Opera Rara's Ginevra di Scozia, recorded live at the Teatro Verdi in Trieste in 2001, is one of those rare recordings with which you really can't lose - there truly is something for almost everyone here. Don't like Italian opera? Mayr was Bavarian by birth, and his style has more in common with Mozart and Beethoven than with Rossini. On the other hand, if you're a bel canto devotee and/or historian, you can have a ball plumbing Mayr's fascinating score for pre-echoes of Rossini - and of Mayr's most illustrious pupil, Donizetti. Finally, if you just love great singing, you'll find this recording a sinfully rich smorgasbord - in fact, this is possibly the best live recording of an opera I've ever heard.
The performance isexcellent, and if you like VERY high soprano singing, you've hit the mother lode. Elizabeth Vidal in the title role takes her voice far, far, above the high C's and D's that mark the threshold of comfort for most mortal sopranos. Yet this exospheric singing is not the limit of Vidal's powers, for in addition, the role demands a melting legato line and the ability to perform amazing feats of vocal acrobatics. None of this phases Vidal a bit. The truly amazing thing, however, isn't how high her upper extension is, nor is it the marvelous accuracy and effortlessness her coloratura. Rather, it's the sheer beauty and brilliance of tone that is present throughout that makes this performance such a special occasion. Never do we feel like we are listening to a bloodless mechanical songbird; every note, irrespective of how far in orbit it may lie, pours forth with richness and vibrancy.
Vidal is able to ACT with her voice, conveying at all times the character's purity, innocence and vulnerability. Witness her despair when, in the heartrending finale to Act I, she hurtles to an unbelievable G above high C, a feat she later repeats. These are not tasteless circus tricks. Vidal (and Mayr - whose score actually `only' calls for notes up to E in alt) use such high notes to intensify the emotional impact of the heroine's plight. We are treated to more such acuto sfogato throughout the opera, with at least one more high G and a plethora of E's. After all this, Sutherland and Sills sounds like mezzos. Vidal is so good that had the remainder of the cast squawked and croaked every note of their music, the substantial price of this set would have been well worth it.
But they meets a very high standard of excellence as well. In particular, the young Italian mezzo Daniela Barcellona proves herself fully equal to the challenges of the fearsome castrato role of Ariodante, offering a healthy balance of technical aplomb and histrionic realism. In both of Ariodante's big scenes, Barcellona gives real shape and substance to the character's pain and suffering, without ever losing beauty of tone and accuracy in her runs, trills, and other ornaments. As thrilling as her performance is, one cannot help but wonder what might have happened had Horne discovered this role, for only a more consistently manly lower range would have made Barcellona's rendition any better.
As the arrantly evil Polinesso, Antonino Siragusa continues to show great promise, as in his recent Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghilterra (also for Opera Rara). Siragusa has no trouble negotiating the difficult coloratura and high-lying vocal line, and in this regard his performance is quite impressive. The lesser roles are sung quite competently - Bass Luca Grassi deserves special mention for his sonorous and dignified portrayal of the beleaguered King, who is torn between love for his daughter and his duties under the law. Countertenor Marco Azzari can boast remarkable agility and an impressive upper extension. He uses his dramatic gifts to breathe life into Lurcanio's despondency and subsequent ire, but his voice won't be everyone's cup of tea, for it does suffer from the hootiness and one-dimensionality often typical of the countertenor. The chorus of the Teatro Verdi is in fine form, and are able to elevate themselves beyond the status of mere commentators on the action to the level of players in the drama - and at the same time they don't squander the chances offered them by Mayr's beautiful choral writing. The sound is luxuriant and the intrusions from the strangely reserved audience are few and quite unobtrusive.
Opera Rara is unsurpassed-and in fact, unequalled-in the presentation department. A substantial 219-page booklet is beautifully produced, with a complete libretto in both Italian and English, a foreword by Opera Rara's artistic director Patric Schmid, a fascinating essay about the reconstruction of the score of the opera, and a lengthy and informative article by Jeremy Commons discussing the history of the opera and its music.