Wolf-Ferrari’s I gioielli della Madonna conducted by Friedrich Haider

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COMPOSERS: Wolf-Ferrari
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Wolf-Ferrari
WORKS: I gioielli della Madonna
PERFORMER: Natalia Ushakova, Daniel Čapkovič, Kyungho Kim, Denisa Šlepkovská, Peter Maly, Frantisek Duriac; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Friedrich Haider
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.660386

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An Italian in Germany and a German in Italy, Wolf-Ferrari’s mixed parentage put him at a distinct disadvantage after the First World War. In 1911 I gioielli della Madonna had been the hot ticket in Berlin, yet the opera had to wait until 1953 for an Italian premiere. But it’s such an Italian work: a generous slice of verismo with more than a hint of late Verdi; while the opening scene with Neapolitans celebrating the feast of their Madonna – whose jewels will be stolen by a lovelorn blacksmith Gennaro as a gift for his luscious half-sister Maiella – is even busier than the beginning of Act II of Puccini’s La bohème. Mind you Freud lurks in the shadows, inviting uncomfortable questions about sacred and profane love.

Yet for all this cultural baggage the opera works as a piece of music theatre and it offers audiences challenging singing, and a bouquet of traditional Neapolitan songs, not to mention a curious array of instruments in the pit which include a pair of percussion instruments that apparently had to be built for this performance, a triccheballacche and a putipù. Kyungho Kim is an impressive Gennaro who easily moves from heldentenor to an altogether more lyric style at the end of the opera when prostrate before the image of the Virgin he takes his own life. The success of Natalia Ushakova’s Maiella depends on whether you warm to the covered sound of Slav sopranos and what sometimes sounds like wandering pitch. Daniel Čapkovič as the gangster leader of the local Camorra is suitably saturnine. What is never in doubt is Friedrich Haider’s enthusiasm for this work and where he leads the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra follow. It’s very good to have a first recording of this neglected work in the catalogue.

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Christopher Cook