Lively Vintage Version of Comic Masterpiece
Nicholas A. Deutsch | New York, NY USA | 12/21/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
""I Quatro Rusteghi" is a delightful comic opera, generally considered the greatest stage work of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948). Like several other of his operas, this one has a libretto drawn from a play by 18th century dramatist Carlo Goldoni. The plot focuses on 2 old-fashioned middle-class Venetian fathers - the title translates roughly as "The 4 Boors" - who plan a pre-arranged marriage between their offspring; their wives arrange for a secret meeting between the young people so that they can find out if they like each other. What gives the piece its great charm is the gracefulness of its tunes, the resourcefulness of its musical invention & orchestration, and the slight shadow of wistfulness, even melancholy, underneath the surface bustle of the sunlit intrigues. The post-"Falstaff" idiom falls easily & gratefully on the listener's ears & Wolf-Ferrari's sense of character & stage timing is impeccable.
There are 3 CD recordings available. This 1953 (radio) studio recording remains my personal favorite: some individual roles may be better taken elsewhere, & other orchestras may have played the score with more consistent polish, but this performance radiates an irresistible zest. Beautifully conducted by Alfredo Simonetto, in solid, clean, up close mono sound, this version has only one really weak performance (by Carlo Ulvi, out-of-tune) & many superb ones, starting with bass Fernando Corena's Lunardo & mezzo Agnese Dubbini's thoroughly outrageous Margarita. It comes with a complete Italian libretto & a very general English synopsis.
The other 2 versions are both live performances from the 1960s, & in fact share 1 singer in a lead role & 2 in supporting roles (different ones in each performance). First, Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 1967 (Mondo Musica MFOH 10701): lively, well-sung, notably by tenor Ugo Benelli (Filipeto); broadcast-quality stereo, except in the prelude & interlude in Act I, which are dim & marred by loud backstage noise. Detailed English synopsis, no libretto. Second, Turin, 1969 (Gala GL 100.553): in tolerable if slightly muffled mono, this performance boasts 3 "names" - soprano Magda Olivero (Felice), mezzo Fedora Barbieri (Margarita) & bass Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (Lunardo), tho' only Barbieri strikes me as ideal casting. No synopsis or libretto. My advice: start with Warner Fonit (at bargain price too!)."
What a difference the conductor makes!
Lawrence Rapchak | Whiting, IN United States | 12/04/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The review of this recording by Nicholas Deutsch perfectly describes Wolf-Ferrari's music; if you haven't heard any of it, read Mr. Deutsch's description.
I USED to own a 1993 live performance of this opera from Milan on the Arkadia label. Even following that recording with a score left me so distressingly disilluisoned and flat-out BORED with the opera that I couldn't wait for it to end!
Then I read Mr. Deutsch's AMAZON review and bought this old 1953 Cetra recording. I couldn't believe that I was listening to the SAME WORK----the brilliant leadership of conductor Alfredo Simonetto lifts this performance into a class unto itself! Suddenly the work LIVES--breathes, dances, laughs, sighs.... the vivid sense of CHARACTER simply LEAPS from every page of the score in this recording! You know that Simonetto(whose sense of TIMING is absolutely impeccable), having assembled a cast of fabulous singing ACTORS, must have inspired them and the orchestra to love and "live in" every note that they performed.
Simonetto, Corena, Carlin and Dubinni---all fabulously talented, and loving every minute of it! And so will you."