“Il segreto di Susanna” by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: a Gallery


Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari is one of those composers who, like Leoncavallo and Mascagni, are pretty much mostly known for a single one-act opera. Wolf-Ferrari’s operas were phenomenally popular at the time, in the decade or so before WW1, but Il segreto di Susanna, which debuted in Munich in 1909, is the only one that still has regular outings and it seems to have been rediscovered in the past few years.  The overture can appear as a stand-alone piece, and the aria “O gioia la nube leggera” is, or at least was, a not uncommon recital piece.

Wolf-Ferrari was a fan of 18th-century Italian comedies, in particular the plays of Carlo Goldoni, which he used more than once for his operas which as a result often in Venetian dialect. Il segreto di Susanna is a bit unusual in that it is set in (his) present day and is standard Italian. However, even here, Wolf-Ferrari was looking backwards because the work is a direct reference to 18th-century “intermezzi“, in particular Pergolesi’s La serva padrona which has the same basic structure: a soprano, baritone and a mute servant, all in a domestic setting.

This performance took place at the Asia Society Hong Kong on 27 November 2022 in a co-production of the Società Dante Alighieri. The ultimately comic story of a misunderstanding—a husband suspects his wife of having an affair after he smells cigarette smoke—roiling a marriage was set in inter-War Hong Kong, right after a party and featured Etta Fung and Isaac Droscha as the newlyweds Susanna and Gil and pianist Hsu Wei-En doubling up as Sante.