Wolf-Ferrari: Sly

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COMPOSERS: Wolf-Ferrari
PERFORMER: Hans-Dieter Bader, Deborah Polaski, Klaus-Michael Reeh, Siegfried Haertel; Lower Saxon State Opera Hannover Orchestra & Chorus/Robert Maxym
CATALOGUE NO: 47549-2 Reissue (1982)
The custodian of Italian comic opera in the decades between Falstaff and Gianni Schicchi, the half-Bavarian, half-Venetian Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) is best known for such elegant, 18th-century-style opere buffe as I quattro rusteghi (a charming Goldoni setting once popular in Britain, in Edward Dent’s translation, as The School for Fathers) and the proto-feminist Il segreto di Susanna (her secret being that she smokes). The veristic I gioielli della Madonna aside, Sly (La Scala, 1927) is his only tragedy, and – in its overlay of comic elements from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew with darker echoes of Calderón’s Life Is a Dream – a shockingly bitter one too (comparable in its tortured pathology, and eclectic from-Wagner-to-Weill scoring, to Zemlinsky’s near-contemporary Der Zwerg). Like his namesake, the tipsy tinker of Shakespeare’s ‘induction’, Wolf-Ferrari’s Villon-esque vagabond-poet is also snatched from an inn while drunk, dressed like a lord and persuaded that his life before was just a dream. But, whereas Shakespeare’s Sly then merely has to watch the Kiss Me, Kate ‘comonty’ of Petruchio and Katherina, Wolf-Ferrari’s finds himself the butt of a far crueller hoax: mocked for his credulity and then locked in a cellar, he slits his wrists on a broken bottle, too soon to hear Dolly, his mocker’s mistress, declare her love. With Bader inspired in the Hoffmannesque title role, the young Polaski raw-topped but thrilling as his Wagnerian temptress, this 1982 German-language recording (previously on Acanta) makes one wonder why no British company has yet tried to wake Sly from his dream. Mark Pappenheim