Happy New Year, Opera Fans!
It’s true that conversations about opera with other people are far and few between but when one does surface, I get pretty excited. That being said-and I really do appreciate these conversations- a question I get asked frequently that drives me crazy is “What’s your favorite opera?”
It drives me crazy not because it’s a stupid question or an irrelevant question, but it’s just too hard to choose! If I had to pick one and I sometimes do, it would be La Wally, a totally under appreciated opera written in 1890 by Alfredo Catalani with a libretto by Luigi Illica from La Boheme fame.
The purpose of this five part blog miniseries is to acquaint you-extraordinary opera fans and Opera Teen readers- to an opera that because of staging restraints, you may not be able to hear. Over the next few months, I’ll be posting musical analysis, video and audio clips and anything else that might help you learn more about La Wally.
Now the average opera going citizen probably knows a few things about La Wally. One is that the hero and heroine both die in an extremely-difficult-to-stage avalanche in the final scene. Another thing may be that this was a favorite opera of conductor Arturo Toscanini. In fact, he loved it so much he named his children after Wally and her friend Walter.(His son, who he named Walter was born first with his daughter Wally coming later.) (He also had a daughter Wanda who had a freak out at a critic or something but that’s a story for another time.) Finally, this aria boasts a hugely famous aria for soprano, “Ebben, ne Andro Lontana?” a concert favorite of many sopranos, in particular the great diva Angela Gheorghiu.
Today, we’re going to start learning about the synopsis of La Wally before we move on to an act-by-act musical analysis of the piece.
So in summary, the opera La Wally is about a beautiful girl in a small German town called Hochstroff. Wally is evocative of Minnie from Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West because she’s pure, pretty tough and all the men in town are in love with her. I always say that La Wally is a mixture between Luisa Miller, Romeo et Juliette and La Traviata, if that makes sense at all.
Wally is secretly in love with a man from another town named Giuseppe Hagenbach who is also her father Stromminger’s mortal enemy!(Well maybe not mortal enemy but you get it…) So on Stromminger’s 70th birthday, another man named Vincenzo Gellner confides to Stromminger about his suspicions of Wally and Hagenbach.
Putting two and two together, Stromminger realizes that Gellner is in love with his daughter and he decides that she would be better off with Gellner. Wally comes in and he tells her that she either marries his silver fox friend within a month or be banished from his household forever. (This scene could be heavily strengthened if the artist singing Stromminger has a huge cape.) Wally replies that she would rather take her chances in the Alpine snow then drags Walter away into the freezing snow with her. This is when she sings the aria “Ebben, ne Andro Lontana?” and departs for the mountains.
Fast forward one year. Stromminger has died and Wally has inherited his fortune. Hagenbach is now engaged to Afra, a tavern keeper and dropped Wally like a hot potato. Wally comes out of hiding to the tavern for the Spring festival but she just wants to see Hagenbach. In the meantime, Hagenbach has accepted a challenge from his idiot friends to see if he can garner a kiss from Wally. Since she’s still in love with him, it’s not that hard and he gets his kiss, but when Wally finds out that she was duped, she can’t contain her anger. She turns to an ever-present Gellner and says she wants Hagenbach dead.(Swift curtain.)
Come Act 3, Wally totally realizes she’s screwed up. Bad Wally. While she and Walter are talking, there’s a knock at the door. That knock is Gellner who comes in and tells Wally all about how he stalked Hagenbach like a deer and in the deep darkness of a winter night, he hurled Hagenbach into a ravine.
Wally, disturbed and guilt ridden, goes to the mountains to save Hagenbach by repelling down a mountain. She is able to revive him and she releases him to Afra. Knowing that it can never be-whatever “it” is-, she returns home.
Act 4 gives us Wally and her trusty sidekick Walter climbing high into the mountains. Now we don’t really know why Wally climbs the mountains but it is most likely a suicide attempt. Walter reminds Wally of all the Christmas festivities going on in town and Wally sends her friend home, leaving only herself against the elements.
Giuseppe appears in the mountains, recovered from his injuries and he and Wally profess their love to one another. Giuseppe goes to find a path down the mountains but as he calls for Wally, he sets off an avalanche sweeping him away to his death. Unable and unwilling to continue to safety, she cries “Here is the wife of Giuseppe!” and hurls herself down into the avalanche, killing herself.
That’s the end of the opera and your first step in getting more acquainted with this fantastic piece. Check back soon as we learn more about this fantastic opera!