Wolf-Ferrari: Susanna’s Secret & Serenata

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wolf-Ferrari
LABELS: Avie
WORKS: Susanna’s Secret; Serenata: Five Songs for Baritone
PERFORMER: Dora Rodrigues, Marc Canturri; Anna Tilbrook (piano); European Opera Centre; Royal Liverpool PO/Vasily Petrenko
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2193

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The half-Italian, half-German composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) is neglected these days, but his operas once enjoyed wide currency, including the one-act comedy Susanna’s Secret (1909), with stagings at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne on its international CV.

Originally its subject – Susanna’s husband suspects her of harbouring a lover due to the prevalent smell of tobacco in their home, but she turns out to be a furtive smoker herself – was risqué because of disapproval of women smoking.

These days, ironically, its comedy may again be up to date because Susanna’s non-guilty pleasure is so un-PC. 

That aside, Wolf-Ferrari’s score is a winner, starting with a brilliant comedic overture that sets the neo-classical mode informing the whole, a decade before Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, lightly spiced with harmonies Richard Strauss would have been proud of. Elsewhere figures such as Mozart, Cimarosa and Rossini underlie the basic language Wolf-Ferrari handles with such clarity and charm. 

This live Liverpool performance (2008) goes swimmingly under Vasily Petrenko. Soprano Dora Rodrigues has allure as Susanna, with baritone Marc Canturri graceful as her volatile husband, Gil.

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As a makeweight, the disc includes Wolf-Ferrari’s Serenata, a set of five songs from his Italian Songbook. Canturri is solid here, too, with pianist Anna Tilbrook supplying spirited accompaniments. George Hall