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Ermanno WOLF-FERRARI (1876–1948)
La vedova scaltra (The cunning widow) (Libretto by Mario Ghisalberti, after the play by Carlo Goldoni) (1931)
Anne-Lise 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) - Arlecchino
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice, Venice/Karl Martin
Picture Format: NTSC 16:9; Region Code: 0
Sound Format: Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, Dolby Digital Surround 5.0
rec. Teatro La Fenice, Venice, Italy, 13, 15 February 2007.
NAXOS 2.110234-35 [2 DVDs: 142:00]
Experience Classicsonline

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 them.
 
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 only.
 
Raymond J Walker
 
 


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