WOLF-FERRARI (1876–1948) La vedova scaltra (The cunning widow) (Libretto by
Mario Ghisalberti, after the play by Carlo Goldoni) (1931)
Sollied (soprano) - Rosaura; Maurizio Muraro (bass) - Milord
Runebif; Emanuele D’Aguanno (tenor) – M.
Le Bleau; Mark Milhofer (tenor) – Il Conte di Bosco Nero;
Riccardo Zanellato (bass) - Don Alvaro di Castiglia; Elena
Rossi (soprano) - Marionette; Alex Esposito (bass-baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice, Venice/Karl
Picture Format: NTSC 16:9; Region Code: 0
Sound Format: Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, Dolby Digital Surround
rec. Teatro La Fenice, Venice, Italy, 13, 15 February 2007. NAXOS 2.110234-35 [2
This is a relatively unknown
opera by Wolf-Ferrari, yet La Fenice has invested a great
deal to make it a high quality production. Written in 1931
for Rome, I found little information on the work because
its performances have been so few. The real reason why
the work is unknown to today’s audiences must lie in its
feeble plot. When one examines the storyline this is understandable
for there really isn’t much of a plot beyond that of aristocratic
suitors wooing an elegant, rich widow. The story immerses
itself in the detail of their encounters and their gossip.
It appears that the librettist, Ghisalberti, has picked
up a thread or two from Lehár’s The Merry Widow.
Humour shows its face when a servant, Arlecchino, manages
to impress Rosaura where the aristocrats have failed. Consequently,
the opera might be regarded more as an over-long curtain-raiser ‘trifle’,
where the content concerns the characters’ personalities
and only a limited amount of developing interaction between
Norwegian Anne-Lise Sollied
who takes the lead, Rosaura, made her international debut
in 1995 when she won the two Viennese singing competitions.
Here she carries a strong stage presence and sings with
a confident and mature strength, wide register and rounded
tone. Her associate, Elena Rossi as Marionette, is less
secure. She tends to climb to pitch on some of her high
notes and has an unfortunate mid-range harshness that prevents
a perfect blend of harmony in duets with Rosaura. The acting
from both of them is excellent.
Of the men, Emanuele D’Aguanno
as Monsieur Le Bleau has a strong presence and uses the
stage comfortably. He is a clear high tenor and commands
good legato even if his flamboyant movements are somewhat
affected. Mark Milhofer, the Count, is another good tenor
but I found his over-prominent vibrato when singing forte,
quite unappealing. He is also marred by an inability to
hold eye contact with those he is addressing and uses wild
arm gestures that tend to be meaningless. To me his character
and acting is unconvincing. Maurizio Muraro as Milord Runebif,
a rich resonant bass with a wide international reputation,
gains confidence by the middle of Act I after a slightly
uneven start in the Prologue. Alex Esposito - originally
from Bergamo - as the servant does not appear until the
second act yet steals the limelight both in the plot’s
development and his performance. His stage presence is
particularly strong and his singing is of high calibre.
This is an elegant production
with superb staging that complements the time and action
of the opera. In the first act good use is made of drapes,
nicely arranged, to wall the generously proportioned doors
and matching stage furniture. The second act, a stylised
piazza in evening light, is also effective and the excellent
costumes throughout are appropriate for the characters.
Wolf-Ferrari gives the chorus little to do apart from a
prolonged dance during the entrance of the Spanish ambassador.
The dance seems to be referred to as a ballet but neither
the music nor choreography gives any suggestion of this.
The recording is nicely
handled and well edited from the two performances selected
for takes. I would have preferred longer establishing shots
to show the elegance of the full scene as well as more
big close-ups to observe the characterisations.
Wolf-Ferrari owes more
than a passing resemblance to Puccini’s style of writing.
He is a competent craftsman, particularly noticeable in
some of the arias, in the Spanish music of Act I and inn
the construction of a quartet. However, it is fair to say
that one isn’t left feeling that in this work the music
is inspired, pleasant though it may be.
The synopsis and notes
are in English and German, with biographies in English
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