Simone Mayr: Demetrio

Mayr cover of critical edition

Edited by Anders Wiklund and Iris Winkler

Dramma per musica 
Libretto: Lodovico Piossasco Feys on a template by Metastasio (in Italian)
World premiere: 27.12.1823, Turin


Alexander Balla has installed himself as the ruler of Syria, replacing the rightful king Demetrio Soter, who has died in exile among the Cretans. Before fleeing, he gave his son of the same name to Fenicio, his most loyal vassal. The son Demetrio lives in the woods under the name Alceste. The entire Syrian empire admires his courage and virtue, which cannot be kept secret. As instructed by the old king, Fenicio spreads the word that the righteous king’s son is still alive. Balla attempts in vain to quell the rumor through war and oppression but is eventually defeated and killed by the Cretans. Alceste also fights for the Syrians in the battle. The lust for power incites a struggle for the leadership and Balla’s daughter Cleonice, bound in love to Alceste, is beset by suitors and claimants to the throne. The election of a successor can be postponed no longer. Alceste returns at the right moment, and his royal origins are revealed.


Mayr’s Opera Demetrio is one of his later works. It draws upon a literary model from the court poet Metastasio and– in musical history – the long-outdated opera seria. The choice of material can only be understood in the context of a prevailing conservative censorship: On March 21, 1821, the “Rivoluzione Piemontese” forced the abdication of Vittorio Emmanuele I. Mayr received a commission from the Turin Theater at the beginning of May 1823, and had to follow a prescribed enlightened-absolutist specification, which may indeed be considered a political message: The returned conservative ruler Carlo Felice was able to be reflected propagandistically in the Seleucid Empire and its homeward-bound regent Demetrio. The musical conception however, in particular the condensing of the second act, breaks with the long-outdated literary model.

Critical Edition

  • This is the first publication of Mayr's final opera, based on the autograph score from the Conservatorio Statale di Musica "Giuseppe Verdi," Turin.
  • Mayr's musically rigorous arrangement comes very close to the ideal of 18th-century orchestral sound. He abandons his earlier preference for idiosyncratic orchestration and moves toward a more monumental sound.
  • In the opera's final number, Mayr returns to his own time. This form of finale was developed by Rossini and put into effect by Donizetti as a showpiece for "la prima donna".

Recommendations for concert

Sinfonia - - timp - str

1st Act No. 6 Aria Barsene Misero tu non sei
S - - - str

2nd Act No. 12 Duet Cleonice and Alceste Ne’ tuoi giorni felici
S.Ms - - - timp - str 
2nd Act No. 13 Aria Alceste Andró da te lontano
Ms - - - str 

2nd Act No. 14 Aria Olinto Frena quel labbro audace
T - - - timp - str