Wolf-Ferrari: I quattro rusteghi

Silvia Beltrami, Aleksandar Stefanoski, Daniela Degennaro, Mihnea Lamatic, Tansel Akzeybek, Mirko Quarello, Giulio Pelligra, Romina Casucci, Agnieszka Hauzer, Ana James; European Opera Centre, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko (Rubicon)

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Wolf-Ferrari I quattro rusteghi
Silvia Beltrami, Aleksandar Stefanoski, Daniela Degennaro, Mihnea Lamatic, Tansel Akzeybek, Mirko Quarello, Giulio Pelligra, Romina Casucci, Agnieszka Hauzer, Ana James; European Opera Centre, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
Rubicon RCD1024 131:25 mins (2 discs)

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With his mixed Italian and German heritage and indeed name, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari is a creative figure who stood at the cusp of two cultures: though he was born and died in Venice, the bulk of his career was spent in German-speaking lands, where most of his operas were premiered in translations of the original Italian texts. Characteristic is I quattro rusteghi, a Venetian comedy based on a play by Goldoni that made its debut in Munich in 1906.

A minor artist, perhaps, Wolf-Ferrari is nevertheless a craftsman, and the neatness and delicacy of this lightweight score, indebted to Verdi’s Falstaff (especially in its ensembles) and the neo-classical tradition its composer explored long before Stravinsky, make the piece an enjoyable if not especially memorable listen. The text is essentially a comic attack on patriarchy, with four elderly married Venetian merchants defeated by their cleverer, more go-ahead wives in their desire to see the next generation marry more happily.

It’s an ensemble piece well served by this live performance given by students of the European Opera Centre in Liverpool in March 2012, in which conductor Vasily Petrenko draws clean and articulate playing from the Liverpool Phil and the singers respond with character and point as they make up the battle-of- the-sexes cast. Standouts from the delicious soprano of Ana James as Felice and the likable, Latin tenor of Tansel Akzeybek as Filipeto, while the best sections of the piece – like the well-known intermezzo – are light as a feather.

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George Hall