Zürich has now become one of the most adventurous opera houses in the world, having just revived this opera in Italian for the first time in years, starring José Carreras, with Daniela Dessi singing the soprano role of Dolly.
Christopher Sly (an impoverished poet) had collapsed in a drunken stupor at a "bar", and a British count decides to play a trick on him. He has his servants dress him up, splendidly. When he wakes up, they tell him he is a British lord who had been suffering from loss of memory. Dolly, the count's mistress, impersonates Sly's wife. The cruel hoax is revealed, Sly is locked up in the cellar of the castle, little realizing that Dolly returns his love. Dolly visits him there, but he has already slashed his wrists and is bleeding to death.
While it is an eclectic piece, with influences from many schools, I regard the dominant influence as being that of verismo. In fact, I actually regard it as one of the very last operas composed in that style (followed by Mascagni's Nerone and Alfano's Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1930s, as well as a few others.)
This work was also given by The Washington Opera in March 1999, and is rumoured for the Met in a few years. The Washington performance, again with Carreras, was the U.S. premiere. The production, by Placido Domingo's wife Marta, is scheduled to be toured widely, including a performance at the Met.
I have been familiar with parts of it for years. The tenor role had been created by Aureliano Pertile, that of Dolly by Mercedes Lopart when it was premiered at La Scala duing the 1927-28 season. Pertile did not record from it, but Nino Piccaluga, Francesco Merli and Alessandro Valente did. In fact his recording of the "Canzone dell'orso" introduced me to Piccaluga, who later became one of my favorite tenors. There are other big tenor arias, of which "Non sono un buffone" is highly dramatic and really quite wonderful.
The performance (Zürich) is a revelation. Carreras was in better voice than he has been in years, and his singing gave me tremendous pleasure. Granted, he is not the Carreras of the 1970s (neither is anybody else), and there were signs of strain. But the whole opera was a real treat. I must admit to liking it better than many other late verismo works, and think it may well turn out to be the rediscovered masterpiece we have all been waiting for. Fortunately for opera lovers, the Zürich performance has been released on CD by Legato.
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Written By: Tom Kaufman
Date Modified: May 27, 1999
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