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Catalani : La Wally

Roma, 1960 (Audio)

Director: Arturo Basile

  • Renata Tebaldi (Wally)
  • Giacinto Prandelli (Hagenbach)
  • Jolanda Gardino (Afra)
  • Dino Dondi (Gellner)
  • Pinuccia Perotti (Walter)

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    Alfredo Catalani: La Wally
    A review from Gramophone, February 1990

    Catalani was by instinct and temperament a post-Verdian (even an anti-Verdian) composer whose short life ended just as the post-Verdian age began. It brought him not triumph but despair: Mascagni's
    Cavalleria Rusticana (first performed just as Catalani began work on La Wally, his last opera), Puccini's Manon Lescaut (whose success put La Wally into the shade and embittered the final months of Catalani's life), even Verdi's own Falstaf seemed more convincing models for the future than the one he had been labouring to perfect over 20 years and five previous operas.

    A century later we don't have to be too hard on him for proposing a path that wasn't taken. He was abused for writing 'German operas' (four of his six stage works have romanticized Teutonic or Nordic
    settings) and he does have moments of atmospheric scoring that recall Weber but in La Wally, his maturest score, he is obviously and fundamentally an Italian who knew more about French opera than most of his compatriot contemporaries. He had, after all, spent perhaps as much as a year in Paris before going to the Milan Conservatoire, a year during which he could have heard most of Meyerbeer's grander operas, one of Massenet's, two by Ambroise Thomas and Weber's Der

    Think of a blend of those influences (fairly well digested) plus long-lined Italian lyricism and a sort of hectic, driven vigour (is it too fanciful to attribute part of this to Catalani's by now galloping consumption?) and you will have a pretty good idea of the style of La
    Plenty of local colour, both in the obvious operatic sense (a huntsmen's chorus, a recurrent yodelling song—the work is set in the Austrian Alps) and, more impressively, in the evocations of cold in Act 4: piccolo and double-bass four octaves apart in the prelude,icily thin scoring in the opening scene on the snow-bound mountain peak, strangely Shostakovich-like chords in the soprano's despairing scena—Catalani's orchestral writing, though coarse now and then, has vitality and sometimes real poetry to it. Despite efforts not to be, La Wally is basically a number opera, and inevitably the big solo scenes stick most obstinately in the memory: the heroine's famous "Ebben? ne andro lontana", of course, but she has arias of similar melodic appeal in each of the other three acts (her baritone suitor and the tenor who first scornfully spurns her then learns to love her too late have their most characterful moments in duet with her); the melodic language is generous, with here and there a brusque, striking angularity. And in moments like the quite ingeniously complex ensemble in Act 2 (quartet and chorus) and above all in the sequence of
    not-quite-arias and notquite-declamatory-recitatives of the Fourth Act an individual voice begins to assert itself.

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    Arturo Basile
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