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Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: I quatro rusteghi
Mihnea Lamatic (Lunardo), Silvia Beltrami (Margarita), Romina Casucci (Lucieta), Mirko Quarello (Simone), Daniela Degennaro (Marina), Aleksandar Stefanoski (Maurizio), Tansel Akzeybek (Filipeto), Roman Ialcic (Cancian), Ana James (Felice), Giulio Pelligra (Count Riccardo Arcolai), Agnieszka Hauzer (Marina’s maid), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko (conductor)
Live recording: Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, England (March 26-31, 2012) – 131’25
Rubicon Classics RCD1024 – Booklet in English and German (Distributed by PIAS)

This Rubicon Classics release is a “diamond in the ruff” for those having strong persuasions towards Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari as well as those who haven’t been completely exposed/introduced to the multi-nationalist’s music.

Wolf-Ferrari’s early works found greater success in German opera houses rather than in his native Italy. Many of his œuvres teethe with sardonic jabs in a veritable “battle of the sexes” such as Le donne curiose (1903) and La vedova scaltra in 1931. But some of the material lightly dabbles inside the verismo genre, particularly in his 1911 melodramma I gioielli della Madonna.

When we turn to I quatro rusteghi, we see the composer more heavily guided by late 19th century romanticism and comic Italianate gestures (though more daring) with strong parallels to Verdi’s Falstaff (1893) and milder temperaments of Puccini. What Wolf-Ferrari drops is his Commedia dell’arte cut outs. Orchestral complexities are sharply inventive and constitutionally plucky, ushering in clever overtones and filled with thrifty contrapuntal commentary.

The spiteful, chauvinistic male population is splendidly and stereotypically displayed via the lines of Mihnea Lamatic, Mirko Quarello, Aleksandar Stefanoski and Roman Ialcic. We’re rarely treated to a bass trio, but in this case the vision is fulfilled (opening Act III.) Wolf-Ferrari’s brilliant set-up is a sort of Westernized “Yin and Yang” quandary, for the female contingency tends to grumble at the rudeness set forth by their counterparts. The structure closely matches that of Falstaff: Romina Casucci’s Lucieta conforms to a sort of pouty Nannetta though she has shrewish ambitions found in Barbieri’s Rosina. Ana James, in the role of Felice, is an Alice Ford ‘ringleader’ carrying the bannière femmelle whose abilities easily manipulate her husband (Roman Ialcic’s Cancian) into subservience while carrying on with pleasantries involving Giulio Pelligra as the Count Riccardo Arcolai.

Act I establishes conflict and the tension mounts. Leading into Act II, Vasily Petrenko’s take of the “Intermezzo” is one of the most luscious and buttery renditions ever heard. An unusually slow tempo, this is suitable, giving contrast to mounting clash to come. Wolf-Ferrari’s I quatro rusteghi is flush with ensembles, and in the closing Scene VIII of Act II, we hear the building of voices and snowballing angst (similarly found in the closing of Act I’s Barbieri), though, structurally-speaking, it’s akin to Falstaff’s nonet. Twists and turns occur, and one is never saddled in monotony.

What makes I quatro rusteghi equally irresistible is that “so called” arias are ingeniously woven into the musical fabric without anticipatory fanfare. Wolf-Ferrari uses individual instruments to “comment” (i.e. bassoon remarking Lunardo) on aspects of the vocal dialogue…the result is not only tremendously effective, it’s downright hysterical.

Rubicon Classics’ recording is aptly rich. The fact that this isn’t a “mainstream classic”, the company has chosen (economically) to forego printing the Italian/English libretto in the physical product, though the transcript is accessible online. The conundrum, however, exists twofold: 1) I quatro rusteghi was written in an idiomatic Venetian dialect (with exception of Count Riccardo); therefore, literal translation befuddles and 2) the two PDF files separating Italian and English librettos are not integrated, frustrating the listener. Quite a bit of amusement is generated from reading the translation by itself, but in order to appreciate the total picture, an absence of the amalgamation dilutes. On the flip side, when reading Gerald Larner’s synopsis, one can generally grasp the opera as a whole. Merely listening to the score (as background music) is pleasing enough.

Aside from the shortcomings referenced above, I quatro rusteghi “takes the cake”, and it is a grand passage.

Christie Grimstad




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