WOLF-FERRARI Die neugierigen Frauen (The Curious Woman)
First performed in Munich in 1903, Die neugierigen Frauen – Le donne curiose to give it its original title – was the work that put its half-German, half-Italian composer on the musical map, though he was also, to some extent, to be constrained by its legacy. It was the first of the sequence of retro comedies that made Wolf-Ferrari successful in his lifetime, though his public repeatedly threatened to desert him whenever he deviated from the form. He originally offered the piece to Venice, which rejected it. Munich, however, accepted it on the proviso it be staged in German: at Wolf-Ferrari’s insistence, the premieres of many of his subsequent operas to Italian texts were given in German, even if the actual translations were not his own.
It was also his first of several operas based on the work of Carlo Goldoni. The inquisitive women of the title are a group of Venetian wives who are anxious to discover what their husbands are up to at the men-only club they have founded for themselves. Aristocratic Eleonora thinks her husband Lelio is practising alchemy. Bourgeois Beatrice is concerned Ottavio might be unfaithful. Commedia dell’arte blends with social comedy: Pantalone is one of the club’s founders; Arlecchino, his servant, is conniving with Colombina, Beatrice’s maid, to get the women in. The sexual politics might nowadays raise eyebrows – Wolf-Ferrari is on the side of the men, whose secret pleasure, it turns out, is gastronomy – but the score is engaging. Wolf-Ferrari’s through-composed buffa is reminiscent of Falstaff, albeit without the latter’s poignancy.
Very much an ensemble piece, it’s difficult to cast in today’s world of star singers, though this new recording, a 2011 radio production from Munich’s Prinzregentenheater, serves it rather nicely. Ulf Schirmer’s conducting is impeccably stylish. The vocal honours belong to Violetta Radomirska’s imperious Eleonora and Peter Schöne’s maddeningly obtuse Lelio, the pair stealing the limelight from Kathrin Göring’s plummy Beatrice and Jürgen Linn, occasionally unsteady, as bluff Ottavio. Agnete Rasmussen and Andreas Weller, as the Nannetta-and-Fenton-ish young lovers, Rosaura and Florindo, have great charm, while Hans Christoph Begemann’s Arlecchino sounds as raffish and sexy as one could wish.