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Ermanno WOLF-FERRARI (1876 – 1948)
Il segreto di Susanna, Intermezzo in one act (1905-09) [43:51]
Serenade for Strings in E flat major (1893) [22:18]
Susanna – Judith Howarth (soprano)
Gil – Ŕngel Ňdena (baritone)
Oviedo Filarmonia/Friedrich Haider
rec. live 12-14 May 2006 (Susanna), 2010 (Serenade), Auditorio Principe Félipe, Oviedo, Spain
NAXOS 8.660385 [66:29]

Recordings of Wolf-Ferrari’s operas have come my way for reviews a couple of times (here & here), the latest as recently as less than three years ago. And now comes a third, which seems to confirm my presumption in the previous review that there may be a Wolf-Ferrari renaissance on its way. Wolf-Ferrari can with some justification be counted to the verismo school and he was younger than either of the others. Though he was a skilled composer he was also the least personal of the group, but he was quite successful as an opera composer, especially in the early 20th century with works like Le donne curiose (1903), I quatro rusteghi (1906) and Il segreto di Susanna (1909). The latter was his greatest success and it has also been recorded several times.

The plot is rather simple. Gil one day comes home and the room smells of tobacco. He suspects that his wife Susanna has a lover. He speaks to her about it and Susanna finally admits that she has a secret but doesn’t want to tell him what it is. When Gil leaves the house she takes out a cigarette from a hidden packet and she and the servant smoke together. That’s her secret. When Gil comes home again she hides the cigarette in her hand. Gil tries to take her hand and gets burned. Everything is revealed, they forgive each other and decide to smoke together ever after. As a non-smoker I’m not particularly pleased by the moral, but of course this was 110 years ago. Bearing this in mind it is anyway an entertaining comedy and there are some musical gems, in particular the orchestral Intermezzo (tr. 9), which is the best-known music in the opera. Susanna has a charming arietta (tr. 10) and a longer aria (tr. 13). The overture is also a spirited opening, and no one hearing it can have doubts about this being a comedy. The dialogue is most carried forward in a melodious parlando, but occasionally it develops into arioso. Both singers are excellent and Ŕngel Ňdena is very expressive – a true singing actor – while Judith Howarth shines in her solos. Friedrich Haider, who has championed Wolf-Ferrari’s music for many years, leads a spirited performance. The recording of the opera was previously released in 2006 by Philartis in Vienna. I have long treasured a Decca recording from 1976, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli and with Maria Chiara and Bernd Weikl as soloists, but it doesn’t seem to be available separately, only as part of a large boxed set.

The quite substantial filler, Serenade for strings, was written in 1893 by a 17-year-old Wolf-Ferrari, who certainly was precocious. It is well-crafted with a spirited allegro followed by a beautiful andante, a witty scherzo and a lively finale, everything excellently played by the Oviedo Filarmonia. At Naxos’ affordable price no one should be disappointed with this issue.

Göran Forsling

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