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Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari is a name we might not recognize. An upcoming release of his opera I gioielli della Madonna has him pinging on my esoteric radar.

I gioielli della Madonna, The Jewels of the Madonna, was written in 1911 and was a popular opera. It had it’s Metropolitan Opera premiere in 1926. The opera languished for another 30 years before it had its Italian premiere in 1953.

The intermezzo from the opera has enjoyed some success as a concert piece.


"Intermezzo" I Gioielli della Madonna

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari

The recording, which will be released on May 13, is of a 2015 revival of the opera at the Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava. There have been two previous recordings, which I can find, but they are rarities and not readily available.

What’s the music like? Imagine Pagliacci, Cavalleria Rusticana, and Andrea Chenier combined into one glorious orgy of verismo. Now infuse the scores with a cocktail of grappa and Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill.

The current obscurity is, more than likely, based on finances. The opera has a massive cast, orchestra, and chorus. The financial realities of the show are that it will be expensive and won’t sell tickets because it isn’t Puccini, Mascagni, or Leoncavallo.

The opera is set in Naples and Wolf-Ferrari uses native instruments and musical idioms to convey the atmosphere. According to the linear notes, this depiction of Italy was considered cliche by critics at the time.

I consider it to be something of an old fashioned and therefor fashionable piece of music which brings to mind the aroma of Italia on a fine spring day. The opening festival (The Feast of Annunciation on March 25) scene is rambunctious and over-wrought but Wolf-Ferrari settles down and the score contains music of considerable lyricism.

The performance is good and it’s about the best we could hope to get for this neglected masterpiece. The finances aren’t going to support a recording with Renee Fleming, Jonas Kaufmann, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

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