Review by: Robert Levine
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 8
This is a nasty work about a drunk who, after a particularly besotted evening, is duped by a hateful Earl into believing that he’s a nobleman. While drunk and unconscious he’s taken to the Earl’s estate and dressed royally; when he awakens, he’s told that he’s been in a 10-year coma. He eventually comes to believe it all (including the presence of a loving wife, actually the Earl’s mistress, who in a truly sad turn, actually comes to love him), only to have the whole thing pulled out from under him. He’s put in a cage and mocked, and he eventually slashes his wrists.
The opera was revived in recent years for José Carreras and Placido Domingo. The lead role is dramatically interesting enough to warrant the Spaniards’ attention, but they each had to alter the very high tessitura and make substantial cuts to get through the opera. Here Hans-Dieter Bader sings it as written, and he’s a miracle: I don’t know where he sings, but I’d run to hear him in any Germanic repertoire (Wolf-Ferrari had one musical foot in Italy and the other in Germany and this piece straddles both styles as well).
Deborah Polaski sings Dolly, the Earl’s mistress and co-conspirator, and she also has plenty of difficult music to sing, which she does very well. She may be a bit noisy, but so is the part, and it’s good to hear such involvement and solid high notes in one singer. Klaus-Michael Reeh is properly bullying as the Earl, and Siegfried Hartel makes the most of the role of John Plank, Sly’s only friend, who appears in the first act. The rest of the large cast is superbly prepared, and Robert Maxym gets remarkable playing out of his Hannoverian forces. This opera is fabulously, fascinatingly orchestrated, with rambunctiousness in the Tavern Scene and mock gentility in the second act, before Sly discovers the truth. If you want/need a performance of this disturbing opera, look no further than this 1988 set. It is sung in German and not the original Italian; libretto and thorough synopsis are included but not an English translation of the text. The sound is top-notch.
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: This one
ERMANNO WOLF-FERRARI - Sly