An entertaining, live "Straw Hat"
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 01/20/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"SOURCE: Live performance at the Petite Salle in Brussels, March 6, 1976.
SOUND: Details are not provided by the publisher, but this seems to be a true pirate recording. It was clearly recorded from the audience, as demonstrated by the close proximity of a horny-handed, bravo-shouting enthusiast (who, thank heaven, manages to restrain himself until the appropriate moments.) The orchestra is front and center, while the performers are noticeably distant and sometimes overwhelmed by the sounds emerging from the pit. All that notwithstanding, the mono sound isn't all that bad. It is certainly better than many of Callas' live recordings or almost anything emerging from the Salzburg Festival in the 1950s.
CAST: Fadinard, a young, would-be bridegroom - Edoardo Gimenez; Nonancourt, Fadinard's short-tempered father-in-law to be - Gianni Socci; Elena, Fadinard's bride-to-be - Marielle Devia; Anaide, a lady who takes off her hat at intimate moments - Dolores Crivellari; Emilio, Anaide's lover - Manuel Gonzales; Beaupertuis, Anaide's jealous, well-armed husband - Federico Davia; The Baroness of Champigny, a lady with very definite ideas about violinists - Magda Olivero; Uncle Vezet - Augusto Pedroni; The Milliner - Katerina Moesen; Corporal of the Guard/The Viscount of Rosalba - Harmut Schmieder; A Guard/ Fadinard's servant - Jean-Jacques Schreurs. CONDUCTOR: Elio Boncompagni with the Orchestra of Theatre Royal de la Monnaie.
COMPOSER: Nino Rota (1911-1979) was a member of a musical family. His mother was his first music teacher. Toscanini was a family friend and advisor. He was formally trained in both Italy and the United States. In Philadelphia he took classes in the orchestra from Fritz Reiner. Rota is, of course, best known for his film scores but he composed ten operas, five ballets and numerous orchestral pieces.
THE OPERA: "Il cappello di paglia di Firenze" (The Florentine Straw Hat) is based on a famous 1851 farce by Eugene Labiche and Marc Michel called "Un chapeau de paille d'Italie." The great French film director Rene Clair used the story in 1927 for one of the best of the French silent film comedies "An Italian Straw Hat." In 1944, Nino Rota and his mother Ernesta wrote the libretto for "Il cappello." Rota worked on the score for a year or more but put it aside unfinished, with no prospect of a performance. In the mid-1950s, at the prompting of a friend who had heard parts of the score, Rota finished the piece and saw it premiered in Palermo in April 1955 with Jonel Perlea conducting.
STORY: "Il cappello" is a farce about misunderstandings. Fadinard begins his wedding day by driving his carriage across Paris to check on the state of his new apartment. While passing through a wooded area, his whip gets entangled. He stops the carriage to retrieve the whip. His horse uses the pause as an opportunity to snack on an attractive straw hat conveniently hanging from a tree. Fadinard returns to be confronted by an indignant and very much married lady and her lover who is very much not her husband. The lady had removed the hat during an intimate moment with her lover. She cannot return to her suspicious husband without her hat. Fadinard, she and her lover insist, must provide a replacement and they will not listen to any trifling quibbles from him about his forthcoming wedding. Produce the hat, they say, or face a duel. The plot is now wound up like a top and ready to go spinning away. The wedding guests approach as Fadinard rushes off to find a replacement hat. Along the way he blunders into many misunderstandings, including one in which he is taken to be a virtuoso violinist, all to the growing annoyance of his prospective father-in-law.
COMMENTARY: "Il cappello" is pretty much what one might expect from a mid-Twentieth Century Italian composer who was a close friend of Stravinsky but who did not buy into either the atonality of that century's music or its icy indifference to the human condition. For a hint of the sound of the opera and the approach it takes, consider the first scene of Puccini's "La Boheme," before the entry of Mimi and the lush melodies she brings in her wake. Extend that over the whole length of the opera and you have something very like "Il cappello."
Although she is in a supporting role, the star of this performance is the great Magda Olivero, still in first youth at a mere 64 years of age. That lady was, and is, everything that an opera star ought to be. The very fine Marielle Devia, impresses as always, even in the too-small part of Elena. Edoardo Gimenez was, I think, one of those performers who is a delight to see, but one, alas, not blessed with a beautiful voice. On CD, he offers a workmanlike job. The rest of the cast is competent. The conducting and orchestra seem perfectly satisfactory in this not very heavily orchestrated work.
I was drawn to this "Il cappello" by the negative Amazon reviews. Frankly, I wondered how any performance that boasted of both Olivero and Devia could possibly rate a single star. To tell the truth, I am still puzzled by Mr. Dowling's obviously honest and heartfelt disdain. For the moment, I can only assume that my reaction is so different from his because I have heard more truly lousy Twentieth Century operas than he has.
I give "Il cappella di paglia di Firenze" full marks for being that rarest of commodities, an entertaining Twentieth Century opera--less one star for the lack of a libretto and the so-so sound. Four stars.
A PERSONAL COMPLAINT ON PACKAGING: Gala has filled out Disk 2 with Olivero singing an eleven-minute bleeding hunk from Poulenc's "La voix humaine," recorded in San Francisco in 1979. Since "Il cappello" is about 104 minutes and "La voix" about 40, both could have been squeezed onto two disks. I, for one, would not have been bothered in the least by an awkward break in "Il cappello" in return for a complete "La voix.""