Wolf-Ferrari: Sly

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wolf-Ferrari
LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Sly
PERFORMER: José Carreras, Isabelle Kabatu, Sherrill Milnes; Liceu Chorus & Orchestra, Barcelona/David Giménez
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6449-2
Like his namesake, the tipsy tinker of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Wolf-Ferrari’s Hoffmannesque poet-hero is also kidnapped 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 sit through Kiss Me, Kate, Wolf-Ferrari’s finds himself the star of a far crueller comedy, enacted at his own expense for the amusement of a cynical aristocratic crowd. Woken to the truth of his situation, he slits his wrists on a broken bottle, just as Dolly, his tormentor’s mistress, arrives to declare her love.

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It’s easy to see why Puccini rejected this rawly savage libretto from the hand that gave him Gianni Schicchi, and why Carreras should choose to champion Wolf-Ferrari’s setting – with its impressive series of dramatic rants, but little need for sustained singing – in his current vocal state. But he’s in good voice, as is the veteran Sherrill Milnes (allowing for normal wear and tear) as the evil Earl of Westmoreland, while the Zairean soprano Isabelle Kabatu at least rallies in time for the final five minutes, for which Wolf-Ferrari sensibly reserved his one big tune. There are some major deficiencies in the minor roles, but vibrant conducting and vivid sound largely compensate. Altogether a compelling curiosity. Mark Pappenheim