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Wolf-Ferrari: La vedova scaltra (2007)

Anne-Lise Sollied , Maurizio Muraro , Massimo Gasparon , Davide Mancini  |  NR |  DVD
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Anne-Lise Sollied, Maurizio Muraro, Emanuele D'Aguanno, Alex Esposito, Karl Martin
  • Directors: Massimo Gasparon, Davide Mancini
  • Writers: Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, Mario Ghisalberti, Carlo Goldoni
  • Producers: Teatro La Fenice di Venezia
  • Format: Classical, Color, NTSC, DTS Surround Sound
  • Language: Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0), Italian (Dolby Digital 5.0), Italian (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Naxos/Dynamic
  • DVD Release Date: June 24, 2008
  • Run Time: 141 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0018D894C
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #456,871 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features

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Editorial Reviews

Review

One of the five operas Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) based on plays by Carlo Goldoni, La vedova scaltra (1748) is a comedy about a widow's decision to use deception to choose among her suitors.

With the men representing four countries of Western Europe, England, France, Spain, and Italy, the situation lends itself well to manipulating national elements within this Italian opera which uses, at times, Venetian dialect, that is, the idiom in which the composer was raised. The national element is also a foil for the libretto, which plays upon some cultural jibes in its cynical view of romantic love. Among Wolf-Ferrari's thirteen operas, La vedova scaltra is not known as well as Il segreto Susanna (1909) or I gioielli della Madonna (1911; rather, it dates from 1931 and is the work he wrote immediately after his Shakespeare-based opera Sly (1927). With its conversational style, La vedova scaltra is not immediately as accessible as some of the composer's earlier works, but the motives and themes gradually build as the drama itself takes shape and leads to its conclusion. The details contribute to the satisfying - and appropriate - ending of the opera, and this recording makes it possible to appreciate the work in this regard.

This production of the opera, filmed at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, on 13 and 15 February 2007 under the direction of Davide Mancini, makes use of eighteenth-century costumes and accoutrements to reflect the setting from Goldoni's play. This gives a familiar sense to Wolf-Ferrari's work, and this supports the score, which is anchored in conventional tonality, albeit with the kinds of dissonance found in his other operas. More than that, the self-conscious use of operatic convention contributes some post-modern aspects to the work, as does the inclusion of the character of Arlecchino, a servant who acts as an intermediary throughout the drama. The inclusion of this one figure from the traditional *commedia del'arte *pays homage to the theatrical traditional and also brings to mind the depictions of the character in other twentieth operas. Wolf-Ferrari's is no mere copy of the others, and his Arlecchino stands out in the portrayal by Alex Esposito through his vocal abilities and his sense of physical comedy.

As Rosaura, the cunning widow of the title, Anne-Lise Sollied is vocally solid and dramatically convincing. Appropriate to her character, Sollied shows Rosaura to be aware of the consequences of her romantic choices, and her own concerns for mutual affection and fidelity. Sollied's fine command of line and ornament is evident in her first, scene, the one in which she discusses marital prospects with her French maid Marionette. The duet with which the scene ends is a good example of the genial interaction with Elena Rossi, who plays the maid with the sensibility one would expect of Despina in Mozart's Così fan tutte. Rossi shows her own vocal and dramatic skills well in the ensuing duet with Emanuelle D'Aguanno as Monsieur Le Bleu, the French suitor, who just happens to be Marionette's countryman and thus, the preferred candidate for her mistress's hand. Rossi is appropriately disarming in the ensemble at the end of the first act, the scene in which the Spanish suitor arrives with his entourage by gondola.

The entire cast works well with each other within the series of ensembles at the core of each act of the opera. The relationship between Rosaura and her maid Marionette resembles, at times, the one between the Countess and Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. Her engagement in the drama is direct, since she will be affected by the consequences of her mistress's decision. Likewise, Rosaura is at first overtly equivocal about her prospects, and if it is fidelity which she values, the ruse she concocts to test the lovers is necessary for her to choose. Her Rosaura is an affable spirit, and most of all, sung comfortably and with appropriate style. She works well throughout the opera and is fittingly commanding in the concluding scene.

Among the suitors, the Conte di Bosco Nero whom Rosaura ultimately chooses, is sung well by the British tenor Mark Milhofer. His extended aria in the third scene of Act 2 "Quanta soave pace" is a fine example of his contribution to this production, and his duet with Arlecchino as sung by Esposito shows both men to good effect. As to the other suitors, each brings a distinctive style to his character. While none of the suitors entirely meet Rosaura's standards at the end of the opera, the same cannot be said of their performances, which contribute to this enjoyable work. Again, this production of La vedova scaltra brings to light an unfamiliar score by Wolf-Ferrari, and while it may never supplant the place of The Jewels of the Madonna *or *The Secret of Susanna, it augments our knowledge of the composer's music. The comments at the London premiere of Wolf-Ferrari's earlier opera I quattro rusteghi, another Goldoni adaptation, are apt for La vedova scaltra: "It flows spontaneously; it has a touch of distinction which saves it from the obvious; it is technically modern yet picks up the opera buffa tradition of the eighteenth century with the utmost grace and learning; it has a vein of lyrical melodic and excels in ensemble."

Naxos makes the performance Wolf-Ferrari's La vedova scaltra available both on CD (8.660225-26) and on DVD. The sound of the CD serves the work well, and the availability of the opera on DVD preserves the live production which was given at La Fenice - the recording was made before a live audience, and so it conveys a nice sense of spontaneity. The DVD is nicely filmed, with some well-thought close-ups and angles that take advantage of the lighting. On a practical level, the banding of the DVD is similar to that found on the CD and, as such, is useful in finding specific scenes and parts of scenes within each act. This helps to make the relatively unfamiliar score of La vedova scaltra more accessible to those who want to return to specific parts of the work. It is good to see the efforts of Naxos in presenting this opera so sensibly. -- Opera Today, James L. Zychowicz, April 26, 2009

Anachronistic at the moment of its completion, the stylistically backward-looking La Vedova Scaltra (The Cunning Widow), by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, is more of an odd duck of an opera now than ever. Writting in 1931 to a libretto based on an eighteenth-century play, the Venetian composer Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) also leaned on the past musically with a nineteenth-century tonal language. But while he employed some modern twists in harmony and structure in this little-known opera (and in several others in his output), Wolf-Ferrari didn't view the past through a contemporary lens in the way that Richard Strauss did in Rosenkavalier or Stravinsky in Pulcinella. Wolf-Ferrari is forthright and sincere, apparently wishing the annoying developments in extending and abandoning tonality had never happened at all. Wolf-Ferrari's unproblematic pastiche of Classical and Romantic styles forces comparisons to the great works we already have from the hands of Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, et al. Suffice it to say that while some of Wolf-Ferrari's more well-known operas might fare better, La Vedova Scaltra is a poor man's version of the opera buffa staples already in the repertoire. Even in this respectful, vibrant revival by Teatro La Fenice, Wolf-Ferrari emerges as a competent composer but no melodic conjuror, and the straightforward plot screams out for a more creative approach than he provided.

A cultured Venetian widow, Rosaura (soprano Anne-Lise Sollied here), tests the sincerity of four suitors, each a tiresome stereotype of the country he is from: Milord Runebif (a fustian Englishman, sung by bass Maurizio Muraro), Monsieur Le Bleau (a capricious Frenchman, tenor Emanuele D'Aguanno), Don Alvaro di Castiglia (a haughty Spaniard, bass Riccardo Zanellato) and Il Conte di Bosco Nero (an overly emotional Italian, tenor Mark Milhofer). They are aided by the sly Arlecchino (Alex Esposito) and Rosaura's flirty French maid, Marionette (soprano Elena Rossi). But the wooing ends when Rosaura disguises herself as a mystery woman from each country and lures three of the suitors away. Only the Count remains faithful to her, as it were, and they become betrothed. While La Vedova Scaltra doesn't have the sublime musical material to elevate its sometimes tedious comedy-of-manners plot, fashioned after a play by Carlo Goldoni (1707-93), the opera is not without its attractive musical moments. A set-piece sung to keyboard accompaniment by Rosaura as a concert is gorgeous, and the manic scene that follows when the suitors' gifts arrive is well done. Throughout, Sollied impresses with a voice remarkably rich for being so light. The rest of La Fenice's cast mixes comic action and lyrical lines with ease. D'Aguanno's exaggerations are balanced by his flowing delivery, Muraro's pomposity grounded by his resonant instrument, and Esposito and Rossi's sharply executed antics equaled by precise articulation. La Fenice deserves credit for staging this obscure work. The period sets and costumes by Massimo Gasparon wonderfully play up the extravagance of court life, and conductor Karl Martin paces the action well. But in the end, La Vedova Scaltra doesn't present the sort of compelling (or even cleverly ironic) music needed for listeners forcibly transported backward over entire epochs of style. -- Opera News, Andrew Druckenbrod, November 2008

The 13 operas of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876- 1948), like his name, straddle two worlds, and seem to presently please neither, as they are now rarely produced and recorded. True to his German and Italian heritage, Wolf-Ferrari tried to join the two musical styles, Italian melody and German seriousness and orchestration. His operas were popular for a while, but rapidly faded from the world's stages. This new DVD of La Vedova Scaltra (The Cunning Widow) is a first and a total delight.

Wolf-Ferrari was born in Venice and died there, though he spent most of his career in Germany. Five of his operas are based on the plays--not the librettos--of Carlo Goldoni (1707-93), all set in Venice. Four rival suitors-- English, French, Italian, and Spanish--court the rich widow, Rosaura. Rosaura accepts the attentions of the four gentlemen, but, trusting none of them as she seeks only true love and fidelity, finds it difficult to make a decision. Aided by her maid, Marionette, Rosaura, in disguise as a compatriot of each suitor, puts their sincerity to the text. All but the Italian fail the test, the Englishman, Frenchman, and Spaniard proving to less than faithful. The Italian is impulsive, but at least he is sincere and is awarded the hand of Rosaura in marriage.

It's not the strongest plot in the world, but Wolf-Ferrari, working solidly in the conventions of 18th Century Italian opera buffa (with some German overlays) has concocted a charming delight. The music is graceful and effervescent, with plenty of melody. The nationalities of the four suitors is expressed through appropriate music. The Spaniard comes off with the most effective, entertaining music. The La Fenice production, February 2007, was in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Goldoni, himself a Venetian, and, in this production represented by a statute stage center. The simple, elegant production was designed by Massimo Gasparon, who also designed the breathtakingly beautiful costumes and acted as stage director. Gasparon's staging, enlivened by 12 ballerinas, is amusing and sophisticated. It is one of the best stagings of anything I have seen. This is how opera should look.

The performance sounds quite good as well. Martin has the music style well in hand (baton) with lots to propel the music along. Special kudos go to Sollied, a Norwegian soprano of exquisite art, a warm, imperious voice, curling with subtle beauty around her vocal lines. Rossi offers a complete contrast both in voice and character, with her Marionette bright and chirping and a bit steely. D'Aguanno's supple tenor voice has a warm beauty and personality. Milhofer's tenor is afflicted by a rapid vibrato and bland personality. Rosaura should have chosen M Le Bleau (D'Aguanno). Muraro is pretty much a standard Italian basso buffo-- not bad at all. Zanellato's baritone is hardly lovely, but he does get some of the best music, and he thoroughly enjoys portraying the flamboyant Spaniard. But then there is Esposito: a rich, black bass sound, with agility, personality, and a knack for winning the audience's favor. He gets the most applause. -- American Record Guide, Parsons, Nov/Dec 2008

Product Description

Wolf-Ferrari's comic opera La vedova scaltra (The Cunning Widow), is among the works he based on plays by Goldoni. It matches closely the conventions of 18th-century opera buffa in its witty if skeptical look at the mechanisms governing the interplay of human relations. This production, filmed live at the Teatro La Fenice in February 2007 in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Goldoni in Venice in 1707, is the first to appear on DVD. Anne-Lise Sollied, Maurizio Muraro, and Emanuele D'Aguanno star with Karl Martin conducting in this 2 DVD set.

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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars La Vedova Scalti August 17, 2008
By R. Wood
Format:DVD
I had never heard of the opera before - it's very charming. The production is excellent (if somewhat low-scale). A very pleasing discovery.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forse Goldoni dovrebbe ringraziare Wolf-Ferrari. October 8, 2008
Format:DVD
Ad inizio anno ho avuto il piacere di assistere al teatro di Rovigo ad una rappresentazione de "Il Campiello" tratto dall'omonima commedia di Carlo Goldoni, musicata e concertata, a mio parere magistralmente (e sottolineo il magistralmente, splendida anche l'ouverture), da Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari. Lo spettacolo è stato particolarmente gradevole. Il cast vocale era in buona parte lo stesso presente in quella che credo sia l'unica edizione pubblicata su CD, registrata dal vivo a Trieste a metà degli anni novanta, purtroppo praticamente introvabile.
Pertanto quando lo scorso giugno ho visto su Amazon l'uscita in DVD di "La Vedova Scaltra" ho fatto immediatamente l'ordine, senza alcuna esitazione. Anche in questo caso l'accoppiata Goldoni / Wolf-Ferrari si rivela eccellente (magari ne "Il Campielo" la musica è più bella).
Il punto di riferimento, insuperato, di questi lavori penso possa essere il "Falstaff" nel quale il Maestro Verdi traccia una nuova direzione nel suo teatro-musicale. Anche qui Wolf-Ferrari rivalorizza la componente teatrale e su questa concerta magistralmente le voci e l'orchestra al punto che Goldoni non mi è mai risultato, in entrambi i casi, altrettanto godibile come in queste due opere. (Spesso a teatro con Goldoni mi sono annoiato trovandolo prolisso nell'azione in corso e sempre ovvio nei finali).
Il cast è bravo, ben diretto ed a suo agio nel "fingere come naturale" il recitar-cantando. Una menzione per Riccardo Zanellato che in questo DVD "buca il video" più di quanto a teatro, seppure in ruoli differenti da questo, abbia a mio vedere "bucato la scena".
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4.0 out of 5 stars Delightful opera buffa a la Cimarosa or Paisiello. October 26, 2013
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I was not familiar with Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari before watching this dvd. He was born in Venice in 1876 and died in 1948, with much of his opera music composed later in his career, including this one. He was apparently artistically (and psychologically) torn between Italy and Germany (his mother was venetian and his father was German), never fully comfortable with either country, culture or artistic language. His most well known composition is the opera Sly which is performed occasionally, This piece- virtually never.

Le Vedova Scaltra (The Cunning Widow) is a highly entertaining and surprising piece. I say surprising because this is really an Italian opera buffa a-la Domenico Cimarosa or Giovanni Paisiello (or Mozart), but it was composed in 1931!! Trust me, if I didn’t tell you (or you didn’t read the informative booklet), you would never have known it wasn’t from the late 18th century. It is that authentic. I did hear some echoes of Puccini at times, but really the musical vocabulary, libretto, and characterizations are from that much earlier period. AND, very effectively so.

The story is simply about a lovely wealthy widow (with a lovelier and comic maid) being wooed by four suitors- from France, Italy, Spain and Italy. (Money is not really their object as they all appear to be well off.) There is some play with the national aspects of the characters (especially the Spanish duke.) There are plenty of comic scenes (though not as farcical as in Barber of Seville), and a few beautiful romantic melodies. In addition, there is the character Arlecchino (see, this also dates from that earlier buffa era) as an independent waiter/servant helping the men in their pursuits.

It is all very light, the musical numbers are very good, and all the performances are quite good.
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