Carlo Goldoni’s La Locandiera (1753) is one of the great classic Italian comedies. It seems strange that no major Italian composer, apart from Salieri, has ever used it as an opera, but then perhaps it is considered so perfect as it stands that no one dared. Luchino Visconti’s production of the play at La Fenice in 1952, a staging that was seen in several other Italian cities, as well as in Paris, may have provided the stimulus for Martinu to set it as an opera. He adapted the text himself, and although composed in 1954, the first performance did not take place until May 1959, in Prague.
Hearing the catchy dance music that opens Act 1, and then the argument between the Count and the Marquis about rank and their affection for Mirandolina, I wonder how many listeners would guess the name of the composer? This is about as far removed from The Greek Passion as one could imagine. The trouble with Mirandolina, though, is that Martinu, in turning the play into a libretto, was too faithful. There is too much dialogue-as-recitative, albeit underscored with some fascinating and very attractive music, much of it based on traditional Italian dance rhythms.
In Act 1 the situation at the Inn, of which Mirandolina is the hostess, gradually emerges. Her faithful waiter, Fabrizio, has to witness the Count and Marquis both paying court to her with offers of jewellery, while she, snubbing them, flirts with a new guest, the Cavaliere. In Act 2 the plot is further complicated by the arrival of a pair of actresses, while Mirandolina finally breaks down the Cavaliere’s reserve to the extent that he drinks a toast ‘to love’.
Once she has got all the men in a complete froth over her decision, in Act 3, Mirandolina realises that, after all, the noblemen are not to her taste and she prefers her own servant, Fabrizio. The story is a good deal more complicated than I have made it sound, and the lay-out of the five-language libretto with this set makes it hard to follow, with the Italian text separate at the front of the booklet and the English, French, German and Czech translations side by side at the back.
The prelude to Act 3, the ‘Saltarello’, is the only passage that most listeners might be familiar with; it has sometimes been performed as a concert item. There is an impressive duet for Mirandolina and the Cavaliere at the close of Act 1, and various ensemble passages that end all too soon and one is back with the wrangling and plot unravelling. Daniela Bruera is a forceful Mirandolina, and Enrico Marabelli makes a fine foilfor her as the woman-hating Cavaliere. The other roles are well cast, with Massimiliano Tonsini making a good character of the put-upon Fabrizio. The Wexford audience is obviously enjoying the farce – there is a good deal of laughter – and Riccardo Frizza keeps the whole thing jogging along. The recording is clear. I’m happy to have heard Mirandolina, but it isn’t an ideal candidate as an opera on disc: too many of the jokes are lost and it’s hard to stay interested in the machinations of the complicated plot.