Notes and Editorial Reviews
A far from negligible reading of an attractive opera.
It is not every year, probably not even every decade, that we get an opportunity to see or hear an opera by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari. On an early Naxos disc (8.550240) with opera overtures and intermezzi there is music from what are probably his best known works: Il segreto di Susanna and I Gioielli della Madonna. The first mentioned, a one act comedy premiered in 1909, has been recorded a number of times: by Cetra in the 1950s with baritone Giuseppe Valdengo, by Decca in the 1970s with Maria Chiara and Bernd Weikl and somewhat later by CBS with Renata Scotto and Renato Bruson. There may be others but not to my knowledge.
Wolf-Ferrari was born in Venice to a German father and an Italian mother. He first studied art to follow in his father’s footsteps. Rather soon he realised that he wanted to be a musician. He went to Munich where he studied with Joseph Rheinberger and even then he had a special sympathy for opera, having seen works by Rossini and Wagner. In 1895 he saw Verdi’s Falstaff in Milan, less than three years after its premiere. There he was also introduced to the composer. It is the parlando style of this opera that has influenced his own works, at least La vedova scaltra. As in Falstaff there is little room for extended arias but the parlando is often condensed into arioso and aria sections with some melodically attractive themes. The music is hardly offensive, no jarring dissonances, and since there are some characters of different nationalities there is also some references to the music of the nations, where especially the Spanish flavour is well caught. The orchestra is skilfully employed in an often chamber music-like transparency with ample scope for instrumental solos. There is a lot to admire, including the only strict solo song, Rosaura’s song in act II about two separated lovers. Il Conte has a beautiful solo (CD 2 tr. 1), accompanied by plucked strings. There is a scintillating chorus that opens the last scene of the opera. As a kind of Leitmotif there is a waltz, that follows the heroine Rosaura, from her first appearance in scene 2 of the first act until the very end of the opera.
No less than five of Wolf-Ferrari´s operas are based on plays by the prolific Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni (1707–1793), including La vedova scaltra. This is a comedy about Rosaura and her four suitors from France, England, Italy and Spain. There is also a servant, Arlecchino, who functions as a go-between, bringing messages and gifts from the suitors to Rosaura. Naturally there are a lot of complications – including fights and disguises – before everything is sorted out in the last scene. Quite entertaining, in fact.
It seems quite natural that this recording was made in Venice, where playwright as well as composer were born. In a slightly dry but agreeable acoustic the balance between orchestra and soloists is as good as any other live recording I have heard. Karl Martin appears well attuned to Wolf-Ferrari’s music and the playing and choral singing cannot be faulted. In fact there is real gusto in the chorus. Of the male soloists the two tenors, Emanuele D’Aguanno and Mark Milhofer, are both excellent with light lyrical voices. Alex Esposito as Arlecchino obviously enjoys himself greatly while Maurizio Muraro and Riccardo Zanellato are competent but more anonymous. Elena Rossi is a spirited Marionette but her tone is rather edgy. The star of the performance is however the Norwegian soprano Anne-Lise Sollied as Rosaura. She is a splendid actress and sings with nice care for nuance, especially noticeable in her long solo Nella notturna selva (CD 1 tr. 9). In the final reconciliation she rises to ecstatic heights.
The Italian text can be obtained from the internet but it is quite easy to follow the plot with the help of the synopsis. The recording is also available on DVD (Naxos DVD 2.110234-35) and might be even more attractive in that form.
I do not see this set as signalling a Wolf-Ferrari renaissance but it is good to have this example of his art available in a far from negligible reading. The presence of an audience is hardly disturbing and stage noises are reduced to a minimum.
-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International