La Wally

Catalani’s La Wally is not much performed outside Italy so I was interested to get my hands on a recording made at the Theater an der Wien in 2021.  It’s about what one might expect from an Italian opera of the 1890s; an everyday story of country folk plus murder.

Briefly, we are in the Alps where Wally, the daughter of the village “big man” Stromminger is in love with the hunter Hagenbach.  Stromminger has feuded in the past with Hagenbach’s father and insists on Wally marrying a local man Gellner.  Wally refuses and is kicked out.  Stromminger dies, Wally returns, now boss of the village, but things get a bit weird.  Hagenbach is now engaged to Afra but engages with Wally in the ‘kissing dance”.  She is humiliated and tells Gellner to kill him.

Wally changes her mind and when Hagemnbach is swept into the river in an avalanche she mobilises the village to save him.  What Gellner has to so with this is not at all clear.  Hagenbach may or may not have been saved but in any event Wally makes off for the high pastures with her dweeby friend Walter.  Time passes and Wally has made up her mind to die when she hears Hagenbach’s voice.  He claims he still loves her.  She confessses to ordering his murder.  He forgives her but by now the path is closed by an avalanche and they are up the Alp without a crampon.  Hagenbach disappears.  Wally despairs.  But did this actually happen or was it all a hallucination?  I don’t know.

Musically it’s pretty much what one might expect.  It’s through sung, tonal and generally rather heavily orchestrated.  It does have some “big numbers” including, notably, Wally’s first act aria “Ebben? No andro lontana” which was used in the French film Diva.  It’s not unlike other Italian operas of the period though, to my ear, not especially distinguished.  I wonder if it might sound more exciting in the hands of someone like Pappano who seems to excel in this kind of thing?

The production is directed by Barbora Horáková Joly.  It’s basically given a modern setting with projections used a lot though on video it’s hard to see what they are about.  For some reason between acs 2 and 3 we switch from a naturalistic setting to a sort of scaffolding arrangement; though with rocks and lots of running water.   I think the ambiguity/confusion in acts 3 and 4 may have been deliberately created by the director.  In the source material it’s pretty clear that Gellner does kill Hagenbach.  The whole thing is very busy and rather dark.

Ultimately I just can’t get excited about this production (at least) of La Wally.  None of the characters are particularly sympa and the plot seems contrived and confusing; though how much of this is the librettist and how much the director I really can’t say.  The music is decent but not good enough to make up for the dramatic flaws.

This is rather a shame because there are some really good performances.  Izabela Matula sings the title role and she sings dramatically without sounding over-strained.  She’s also got terrific stage presence and seems to dominate the scene whenever she’s on stage (which is most of the time).  Leonardo Capalbo is a very effective Hagenbach with excellent acting and proper lyrico-spinto top notes.  Jacques Imbrailo sings beautifully as Gellner nut seems a bit anonymous, but this may just be the nature of the role.  Alastair miles makes the most of his cameo as the unpleasant Stromminger.  Ilona Revolskaya is convincing as the dweeby Walter though it’s hardly her usual coloratura territory!  The Arnold Schoenberg Chor is the very busy chorus and are excellent as ever.  The Wiener Symphoniker plays nicely too for Andrés Orozco-Estrada.  As mentioned earlier, I do wonder if there might be more to this score than I heard here but, again, maybe not.Video direction is by Tiziano Mancini and I think it’s a decent representation f what happens on stage though the projections rather get lost.  It’s not an easy show to film.  It’s busy and often dark which always causes issues.  The sound (PCM stereo and DTS-HD) are fine and the picture on Blu-ray copes pretty well.  The documentation is not very enlightening.  There could usefully have been more about where and how this production departed from the book.  There is, though, a full track listing. Subtitle options are Italian, English, German, Korean and Japanese.I found this really hard to get into for all the various reasons above.  That said the performances are top notch and the only other video recording is DVD only with a much less starry cast so if rarities from the verismo era are your thing you might want to take a look at this.

Catalogue number: Unitel BR 806404

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