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See latest reviews of other albums..., September 2016

Director Massimo Gasparon’s strikingly colourful sets and costumes capture the Venetian flavour of this spirited work and the talented cast includes Anne-Lise Sollied as Rosaura, Maurizio Muraro (Milord Runebif), Emanuele D’Aguanno (Monsieur Le Bleau), Mark Milhofer (Il Conte di Bosco Nero), Riccardo Zanellato (Don Alvaro di Castiglia) and Elena Rossi as the widow’s knowing maid, Marionette. This is a welcome chance to enjoy a musically eclectic and witty work by the finest writer of Italian comic opera of his day. © 2016 Read complete review

Christie Grimstad, August 2012

Massimo Gasparon’s 2007 revival of La vedova scaltra is a lavishly special production honoring the 300th anniversary of Carlo Goldoni’s birth date…

The success of this production is anchored by a strong cast, led by the beautiful soprano diction of Norwegian Anne-Lise Sollied. Her acting is superb as she manages to plot a series of spoofs with the assistance of the Mariendal-like character, Marionette, well matched by Elena Rossi.

Maurizio Muraro’s Milord Runebif is an English version of Baron Ochs while Riccardo Zanellato comes across with worthy machismo looking a bit like Luciano Pavarotti as Don Alvaro di Castiglia, articulately dressed in toreador visage. Emanuele D’Aguanno has a marvelous French arrogance as Monsieur Le Bleau possessing a voice that is both soft and velvety. “Most Pronounced” can be awarded to Mark Milhofer as Il Conte di Bosco Nero. His inflections are immaculate, and the beautiful Venetian dialect he emits is buttery and svelte.

Naxos has captured the luxuriant undertones and overtones of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s music with aplomb, and no detail is spared in this Massimo Gasparon production. Karl Martin’s conducting keeps the orchestra playing with fine dynamics and pleasant pacing. This release by Naxos would not have been possible without Davide Mancini’s commendable video direction. This DVD is worth collecting for any opera lover… © 2012 Read complete review

James L. Zychowicz
Opera Today, April 2009

Wolf-Ferrari: Vedova scaltra (La) (La Fenice, 2007) (NTSC)

Wolf-Ferrari: Vedova Scaltra (La) (La Fenice, 2007)

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 (2.110234–35). 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.

Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, January 2009

Any Wolf-Ferrari showing up on DVD is cause for celebration, provided it hasn’t been given the Regietheater treatment. This production of La vedova scaltra, meant to celebrate the 300th birthday of the great playwright-librettist Carlo Goldoni, avoids that fate, though it has its share of problems…Sollied is warm-voiced and responsive throughout her range, but provides little of the nuanced shade the part requires. Among the four suitors, lyric tenors D’Aguanno and Milhofer start out persuasively. Zanellato sounds thin and edgy, while Muraro has a wide vibrato and poor intonation, but both improve considerably over the course of the evening. Rossi sparkles as Marionette, sharing with the tenors the best enunciation of the text, while Esposito’s Arlecchino is pleasant if superficial, and obviously hampered by the way he has been forced to “act funny.” Karl Martin leads a disciplined and well-balanced reading, one that seconds his singers while giving the soloists of the La Fenice orchestra space to expand and comment on the stage’s goings-on…La vedova scaltra remains a delightful opera deserving of more attention than it has received. Recommended, with caveats.

American Record Guide, December 2008

This new DVD of La Vedova Scaltra (The Cunning Widow) is a first and a total delight…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 statue 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.

James H. North
Fanfare, November 2008

The singing is first-rate, the orchestra satisfactory, and video production excellent. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Andrew Druckenbrod
Opera News, October 2008

...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 Fenices 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.

Raymond J Walker
MusicWeb International, September 2008

This is a relatively unknown opera by Wolf-Ferrari, yet La Fenice has invested a great deal to make it a high quality production. ...Norwegian Anne-Lise Sollied who takes the lead, Rosaura, made her international debut in 1995 when she won the two Viennese singing competitions. Here she carries a strong stage presence and sings with a confident and mature strength, wide register and rounded tone. Her associate, Elena Rossi as Marionette, is less secure. She tends to climb to pitch on some of her high notes and has an unfortunate mid-range harshness that prevents a perfect blend of harmony in duets with Rosaura. The acting from both of them is excellent.

Of the men, Emanuele D’Aguanno as Monsieur Le Bleau has a strong presence and uses the stage comfortably. He is a clear high tenor and commands good legato even if his flamboyant movements are somewhat affected. Mark Milhofer, the Count, is another good tenor but I found his over-prominent vibrato when singing forte, quite unappealing. He is also marred by an inability to hold eye contact with those he is addressing and uses wild arm gestures that tend to be meaningless. To me his character and acting is unconvincing. Maurizio Muraro as Milord Runebif, a rich resonant bass with a wide international reputation, gains confidence by the middle of Act I after a slightly uneven start in the Prologue. Alex Esposito—originally from Bergamo—as the servant does not appear until the second act yet steals the limelight both in the plot’s development and his performance. His stage presence is particularly strong and his singing is of high calibre.

This is an elegant production with superb staging that complements the time and action of the opera. In the first act good use is made of drapes, nicely arranged, to wall the generously proportioned doors and matching stage furniture. The second act, a stylised piazza in evening light, is also effective and the excellent costumes throughout are appropriate for the characters. Wolf-Ferrari gives the chorus little to do apart from a prolonged dance during the entrance of the Spanish ambassador. The dance seems to be referred to as a ballet but neither the music nor choreography gives any suggestion of this.

The recording is nicely handled and well edited from the two performances selected for takes. I would have preferred longer establishing shots to show the elegance of the full scene as well as more big close-ups to observe the characterisations.

Wolf-Ferrari owes more than a passing resemblance to Puccini’s style of writing. He is a competent craftsman, particularly noticeable in some of the arias, in the Spanish music of Act I and inn the construction of a quartet. However, it is fair to say that one isn’t left feeling that in this work the music is inspired, pleasant though it may be.

The synopsis and notes are in English and German, with biographies in English only., August 2008

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s La vedrova scaltra…is a genuine discovery – it has never been on DVD before – and a most pleasant surprise. The title of this 1931 work translates as “The Cunning Widow,” and Wolf-Ferrari’s work bears more than a passing resemblance to Franz Lehár’s 1905 operetta The Merry Widow in making its heroine a young widow, Rosaura, who tests potential suitors to find her true love. One of a series of Wolf-Ferrari’s operatic adaptations of the witty farces of Renaissance playwright Carlo Goldoni, La vedrova scaltra features the widow (well sung and acted by Anne-Lise Sollied) disguising herself to meet, in turn, suitors from England, France, Spain and Italy, in order to determine which is the most sincere. There is a serious undercurrent to La vedrova scaltra that is missing in Lehár’s much more famous work, and Wolf-Ferrari’s music amuses without genuinely sparkling – there is nothing in La vedrova scaltra that audiences are likely to be humming after the final curtain. But Wolf-Ferrari gets Goldoni’s tone right, providing a lens of hopefulness and skepticism through which the audience sees the mating dance of the principal characters. And the four suitors, typecast though they certainly are, have some amusing moments as they put forth their countries’ personalities while wooing Rosaura. The staging is expert, the singing very fine, and the conducting nicely balanced and well paced. None of this turns La vedrova scaltra into a major opera, but it is certainly a minor find, worthy of occasional revivals and – in Naxos’ high-quality DVD presentation – very much worth viewing as well as hearing.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2008

Though rarely performed, this lighthearted comedy, La Vedova Scaltra (The Cunning Widow), is one of the most enjoyable performances of opera I have seen on DVD. Today the stage reputation of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari resides in two operas, I quatro rusteghi (School for Fathers) and the little one act Il segreto di Susanna (Susanna’s Secret). Yet he was quite prolific in his output, his birth in Venice creating many works set in that romantic city. He was, however, of a German farther, and though he showed his dual nationality by linking his mother and father’s surname, he was to spend much of his time in Germany. Indeed he enjoyed rather more success there than in Italy. La Vedova Scaltra dates from 1931 and is a comedy in three acts, the good-looking widow, Rosaura, attracting the amorous attentions of four suiters from England, Spain, Italy and France. Each try to influence her with their various gifts, but which one will she select, and how will she do that when each can offer so much? I will not spoil your enjoyment by telling you the outcome. At the same time there is a sub-plot in the attention-seeking flirtatious maid, Marionette, and some rather off-beat potential lovers. With gorgeous costumes and elaborate sets - the entry of a magnificent gondola on stage being a big moment -  the producer and costume designer, Massimo Gasparon, looks to the absurdity of the situation, gestures somewhat elaborate to add to the humour. Above all it is so visually attractive. The cast is excellent with the Norwegian soprano, Anne-Lisa Sollied, a creamy voiced soprano and a more than credible wealthy widow. As the English suiter, Milord Runebif, Maurizio Muraro grows vocally in stature when his big bass voice is warmed up, though it will be the lyric tenors, Emanuele D’Aguanno and Mark Milhofer who will capture your attention, as singers of this quality are a rare commodity nowadays. Elena Rossi is ideal as Marionette, and in the cameo part of Arlecchino, the young Italian baritone, Alex Esposito, makes a good impression. The Swiss born Karl Martin directs the Orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice with commendable wit and loads of elegance, the music moving along at an amiable pace. Filmed in February 2007, the audience remain admirably quiet, and the sound and visual quality could not be bettered. In every sense an outright winner which I urge you to see.

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