Anne-Lise Sollied (Rosaura), Elena Rossi (Marionette), Mark Milhofer (Il Conte di Bosco Nero), Emanuele D’Aguanno (Monsieur Le Bleau), Luca Favaron (Folletto), Maurizio Muraro (Milord Runebif), Antonio Casagrande (Un servo di Don Alvaro), Riccardo Zanellato (Don Alvaro di Castiglia), Alex Esposito (Arlecchino), Claudio Zancopè (Birif)

Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice, Venice c. Karl Martin

Naxos 8.660225-6 (2 discs 142 minutes)



This is the fourth (out of five) Wolf-Ferrari comedies, based on Carlo Goldoni, a work that is referred to as one of his lesser pieces. It is a civilized, rather than rambunctious experience, taking its cue perhaps from Goldoni’s stylized and often schematic take on the world of the commedia dell’arte. Rosaura, the shrewd widow of the title, wishes to remarry, and four suitors, from Italy, Spain, France and England attempt to win her. She and her maid contrive to test them, with the Italian proving faithful and winning the prize. With such an improbable plot, it is a comedy of stock situation and archetype, rather than character or psychology: Cosi fan tutte it ain’t. 


This recording taken from two live performances during a run at La Fenice has also been released as a DVD, where presumably there are subtitles. Here, an Italian libretto available online (with CD track cues) and a fairly detailed synopsis make following this wordy opus problematic. Strangely, it is the second recording of the work in a few years – the previous one, from 2005, in a series of rare operas from Montpellier on the Accord label is not a budget recording, as is Naxos, but is sumptuously packaged, and can be found online at reduced prices. It even boasts the same widow, Rosaura, sung by Norwegian soprano Anne-Lise Sollied. 


Recording quality is natural and not too shallow for a live recording, with a pleasing resonance. Sometimes the singers are caught a little close, though Anna-Lise Sollied is a veteran of this opera, she takes a while to warm up, and the high-lying tessitura of the waltz-duet in Act One, one of the few extended melodic moments, and a little lyrical oasis in the expository first act is rather fierce. Her maid, Marionette, has an acidic top register that does not mellow as the evening progresses, which is a drawback. Their voices are rather too similar, and neither exudes enough vocal or verbal allure to give dramatic lift to their scenes. The men are better, Mark Milhofer as the Italian Count has a tremor on occasion, but phrases nicely in his little set-pieces, Emanuele D’Aguanno is more polished vocally, but has less to do. Of the others, Alex Esposito as the servant Arlecchino, is the most spirited, though Riccardo Zanellato as the swaggering Spanish grandee has a nice sense of character. The La Fenice forces are kept on a tight rein by Karl Martin. 


Goldoni was a successful librettist himself, collaborating with Galuppi and Piccinni among others, but his librettos abide by the set-piece conventions of the mid eighteenth century. Wolf-Ferrari, employing a more flexible melos, fillets the original play text for his uses, but at two hours and twenty minutes the piece feels too long. It is wordy, in a musical language that appropriates gestures from Falstaff back in time through the opera buffa tradition. It’s not that the musical language is about fifty years out from its 1931 composition date - thankfully we have moved on from such a twentieth century view of musical progress in this polymorphous age -  it’s that the language (unlike neo-classical Stravinsky or Strauss in Ariadne) has no ‘take’ on the tradition it alludes to. Instead, we get a freeze-dried relic echoing earlier eras, with the juice extracted. There is occasional (seemingly arbritrary) use of a piano for snatches of secco recitativo, a few tiny bursts of orchestral fireworks, but nary an ensemble or culmination and no memorable melodies. Instructively, the live recording has audience rustle, little reaction and almost no laughter.


© Julian Grant 2009