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Ermanno WOLF-FERRARI (1876-1948)
I Quatro Rusteghi (1906).
Gianna Perea Labia (soprano) Lucieta; Agnese Dubbini (mezzo) Margarita; Fernando Corena (bass) Lunardo; Pasquale Lombardo (bass) Maurizio; Alda Noni (soprano) Marina; Gilda Capozzi (mezzo) Servant; Mario Carlin (tenor) Filipeto; Carlo Ulivi (bass) Simon; Ester Orell (soprano) Felice; Cristiano Dalamangas (bass) Cancian; Manfredi Ponz de Leon (tenor) Count Riccardo Arcolai
Milan Radio Lirica Orchestra/Alfredo Simonetto.
Rec in Milan in 1953. [ADD] mono
WARNER FONIT 8573 87481-2
[2CDs: 129'43: 61'44+67'59]


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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 assured.

'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 else.

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 4.

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.

Colin Clarke

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