WORKS: La vedova scaltra
PERFORMER: Anne-Lise Sollied, Maurizio Muraro, Emanuele D’Aguanno, Mark Milhofer, Elena Rossi, Riccardo Zanellato, Alex Esposito, Luca Favaron, Claudio Zancopè, Antonio Casagrande; Teatro La Fenice, Venice/Karl Martin; dir. Massimo Gasparon (Venice, 2007)
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 2.110234-35 (NTSC system; dts 5.0; 16:9 picture format) 141 mins (2 discs)
How appropriate that Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948), who was never quite German or Italian should have been born in Venice, which is never quite land or water. His operas, too, straddle a frontier, so that the comedies he fashioned from the plays of another Venetian, Carlo Goldoni, have stock characters from the commedia dell’arte rubbing shoulders with everyday world tyrannical patriarchs, irritating relatives and resourceful lovers, and in the case of La vedova scaltra a clever handsome widow.
Composed in 1931, Wolf-Ferrari’s comedy is well made, workmanlike but, to be frank, not so very funny in this lavish production from La Fenice. The widow’s four suitors each embodying national clichés – English phlegm, Spanish machismo, French hauteur and Italian cunning – are never so entertaining as Arlecchino the universal servant always at their wooing beck and call.
As the widow Rosaura, Anne-Lise Sollied has the best costumes and most of the better music too. She and her confidante, Marionette (Elena Rossi), deliver a lovely opening duet seated on a satin-covered bed large enough to accommodate all of Venice and most of Verona too, with a huge headboard surrounded by amorous putti.
Mark Milhofer as the Italian Count di Bosco Nero, who wins the widow in the last reel, runs the ladies a close second with his Act II aria ‘Quanta soave pace’. And there’s an insidious waltz that threads its anachronistic way through Massimo Gasparon’s 18th-century settings.
Will you ever see La vedova scaltra? Maybe in Venice, possibly on this DVD. Should you? Well, perhaps the most interesting history of European music sits in the margins, a little like Wolf-Ferrari. Christopher Cook