Based on a play by Carlo Goldoni, 'I Quatro Rusteghi'
was one of the first pieces in which Wolf-Ferrari was to show his ability
for satire. It is, in fact, a delightful opera, well-paced, frequently
witty (not to mention laugh-out-loud funny) and excellently proportioned.
Wolf-Ferrari's writing for both voices and orchestra is confident and
'I Quatro Rusteghi' was the second of Wolf-Ferrari's
'Venetian' operas ('Le donne curiose' being premiered in 1903). In March
1906, 'Rusteghi' was premiered in the Hoftheater, Munich. Its libretto
is by Giuseppe Pizzolato, based on a short adaptation of Carlo Goldoni's
1760 play by Luigi Sugara. The conductor of that premiere was none less
than Felix Mottl: the opera was given in German under the title 'Die
vier Grobiane' (the accepted English translation of the title is, 'The
School for Fathers': in fact, the only vocal score I could find was
the Weinberger vocal score, with text in German and English only! Warner
Fonit provide text in Italian only). The Italian premiere took place
in 1920; its La Scala debut was in 1923 under Ettore Panizza.
Set in the Venice of around 1850, the opera uses the
Venetian dialect (only the aristocrat Count Riccardo sings in standard
Italian). The plot, rather a slight one it must be admitted, concerns
the arranged marriage of Lucieta (daughter of one of the rusteghi, Lunardo)
to marry Maurizio's son, Filipeto. However, the couple must not meet
before they wed. Felice hatches a plan: at Carnaval, Filipeto will come
disguised as a woman and accompanied by Count Riccardo. All does not
go smoothly and Lunardo threatens to send Lucieta to a convent and to
cancel the marriage. It is the ever-determined Felice who comes to the
rescue and the rusteghi relent. Finally, the couple wed.
Wolf-Ferrari writes with a deft touch, frequently light
as a feather. There is an obvious debt to opera buffa throughout: the
composer times his solos and ensembles impeccably. The present recording
under scrutiny dates from 1953 and gives the overall impression of a
good, municipal opera house (the performance often reminded me of ENO's
forays into the lighter operatic repertoire). The upper strings have
a lot to cope with: they handle the simply-stated opening theme well
(it is marked, 'tranquillo, semplice'). Cellos seem to be low on tone;
oboes when asked to play 'grazioso' can emerge as more acidic than anything
The important thing about the cast is that they work
as a team and that diction is well done throughout. Fernando Corena
is probably the best known amongst them (having recorded frequently
for Decca: Sacristan in the Molinari-Pradelli 'Tosca'; Bartolo in Varsivo's
'Barbiere'; Benoit/Alcindoro in Serafin's 'Boheme', etc). His bass voice
is clear and focussed as the archetypal MCP (Male Chauvinist Pig) Leonardo.
He can also be very witty, an essential in this piece. He comes into
his own when he laments the demise of the 'good old days' in Act 2 Scene
Ester Orell is outstanding as Felice. Gianna Perea
Labia is a thin-voiced Lucieta, slightly edgy; but this is not inappropriate,
given the youth of the character she plays. Mario Carlin possesses a
well-rounded tenor voice as Filipeto, in contrast to Manfredi Ponz de
Leon's rather weak efforts. Cristina Dalamangas is a well-focussed Cancian.
Alfredo Simonetto, whose recordings all appear to stem
from Cetra originals and who seemed to record only with Italian radio
orchestras, is evidently a conductor of experience in this type of music.
He follows his singers perfectly when Wolf-Ferrari grants them licence,
and he keeps the ensembles well-balanced and together.
Although the recording is rather dry and thin, this
in itself is not enough to preclude a recommendation. There is much
'joie de vivre' to be discovered here.