Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Il segreto di Susanna  – Serenade for Strings in E-Flat major 
Judith Howarth (Susanna), Angel Odena (Gil), Oviedo Filarmonía, Freidrich Haider (conductor)
Live recording: Auditorio Principe Felipe, Oviedo, Spain (May 12-14, 2006  and February and September 2010 ) – 66’29
Naxos 8.660385 – Booklet in English and German
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s early years focused more on instrumental music instead of opera. On this Naxos CD, however, we get a nice balance of the former and the latter. The Italian-German developed satirical, and opera buffa situations during the turn of the century with such works as Le donne curiose (1903), I quatro rusteghi (1906), and La vedova scaltra (1931.) But Wolf-Ferrari also tipped his hat into verismo drama with his I gioielli della Madonna of 1911. Pervasive throughout life, the composer’s allegiances teetered between Italy and Germany. Generally speaking, on the operatic front, Teutonic audiences took stronger embrace of his pieces, and Il segreto di Susanna (Susannens Geheimnis) was no exception as well, finding immediate appeal when premiering at Munich’s Hoftheater on December 4, 1909.
Il segreto di Susanna is a charming melodramatic 45-minute ditty giving the listener a rudimentary conditioning to some of Wolf-Ferrari’s more well-proportioned comedies. Normally included in a double-bill, the amusement is oft-performed. Recorded back in 2006, this recording brought poignant finishes of Judith Howarth and Angel Odena to Oviedo in what has to be one of the chattiest and citrusy dialogues ever. Vibrantly fun! Mlle Howarth gives Susanna her most gorgeous musical moment during “O gioia la nube leggera” [track 13], a virtual ‘smoke-fest’ aria praising that wispy, elusive vice that meanders between rêve and réalité. Not only does Angel Odena’s booming, stalwart baritone voice travel along with a brilliant bite, he also gives anxious edging to his Gil. Despite a libretto, it’s easy to follow his paranoia ‘gone wild.’
Claude Debussy’s ethereal qualities pop in and out, but it’s the broad musical framework and compass that points toward his Le Diable dans le beffroi (1902-1912?), particularly in the closing bars. Friedrich Haider’s secret is to dramatically whip Il segreto into a brisk tempo, making the intermezzo invigorating and spectacular.
When passing into the Serenade for Strings (1893), we discover how sophisticated a 17 year old could be. Oviedo Filarmonía displays Wolf-Ferrari’s luscious fluidity throughout the four movements, and a happy-go-lucky attitude rests nicely on the listener’s ear. The “Allegro” journeys through the portals of amiable grace, followed the “Andante’s” bittersweet curtsey content. Inside the “Scherzo” we hear quick pockets of spritely contrapuntal thought which is finally concluded in rapid euphoria during the “Finale: Presto”...an economy of laissez-faire beatitude. If anyone’s listened to other Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari œuvres, the Serenade for Strings should be placed high on the list. The depiction moves along with grace, happiness and elegance...100% perfection.
Sound quality is sharp and crisp which adds to the extraordinary beauty inside both selected compositions. Wolf-Ferrari fans will appreciate having this recording for their library.