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The Sunday Opera: Johann Simon Mayr's "Le due duchesse"

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We have another forgotten opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (6/5 3:00 p.m.) by a composer who was incredibly important during his time, was the teacher of Donizetti, and an inspiration for Rossini. Johann Simon Mayr was a German composer who spent most of his creative life in Bergamo in Italy. We’ve already heard one of his nearly 70 operas, “Gienvre di Scozia,” on The Sunday Opera, and it proved to be quite popular with listeners, so we’ve found another that we’re hoping will be equally well received.

This time, we’re going to 10th century England for the semiseria opera “Le due duchesse ossia La caccia dei lupi” (“The Two Duchesses or The Hunt of the Wolves”) in the world premiere recording from 2017.

This Romantic opera from 1814 centers on the plight of lovers Malvina (Eun-Hye Choi) and Enrico (Markus Schafer). Malvina has run away from home to be with her lover, but she’s come to the attention of King Edgar (Young-Jun Ahn) who wants her for his wife.

From there, the story gets incredibly complicated and includes Malvina’s disguised father, Loredano (Jaegyeong Jo) who has come looking for her, and the comic duo of the piece, the hunter Berto (Samuel Hasselhorn) and Laura (Tina Marie Herbert) who are also engaged, but Laura, who only speaks in proverbs for some reason, is substituted for Malvina as the King’s chosen one.

The wolves of the title are both real and metaphorical as Edgar has come to hunt wolves but also refers to those who are being untruthful with him as wolves.

There is, however, a happy ending for just about everyone as Malvina is reunited with her father and is able to be with Enrico because the magnanimous Edgar decides to “forgive and forget” everything when he is shown to be deceitful himself having already promised to marry a far-off countess. Berto and Laura get to wed because Berto has reached his goal of having to kill 101 wolves with the unmasking of the deceitful king.

The story aside, Mayr’s music is absolutely delightful and includes some lovely “heraldic” touches for choruses of knights and the like.

Franz Hauk, who seems to have made it his duty to bring all of Mayr’s music out of obscurity, conducts the Simon Mayr Chorus, members of the Bavarian State Opera Chorus, and the Concerto de Bassus from the harpsichord.

Stay tuned after the opera for more music from Mayr including two of his overtures for other operas, his Concerto Bergamo, and a loving tribute to Beethoven, the Cantata sopra la morte di Beethoven for soloists and orchestra.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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