Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari

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Wolf-Ferrari circa 1906 Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari 1906.jpg
Wolf-Ferrari circa 1906

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (born Ermanno Wolf) (January 12, 1876 January 21, 1948) was an Italian composer and teacher. He is best known for his comic operas such as Il segreto di Susanna (1909). A number of his works were based on plays by Carlo Goldoni, including Le donne curiose (1903), I quatro rusteghi (1906) and Il campiello (1936).

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Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was born in Venice in 1876, the son of German painter August Wolf and Emilia Ferrari, from Venice. He added his mother's maiden-name, Ferrari, to his surname in 1895. Although he studied piano from an early age, music was not the primary passion of his young life. As a teenager Wolf-Ferrari wanted to be a painter like his father; he studied intensively in Venice and Rome and traveled abroad to study in Munich. It was there that he decided to concentrate instead on music, taking lessons from Josef Rheinberger. He enrolled at the Munich conservatory and began taking counterpoint and composition classes. These initially casual music classes eventually completely eclipsed his art studies, and music took over Wolf-Ferrari’s life. He wrote his first works in the 1890s.

Venice Comune in Veneto, Italy

Venice is a city in northeastern Italy and the capital of the Veneto region. It is situated on a group of 118 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by over 400 bridges. The islands are located in the shallow Venetian Lagoon, an enclosed bay that lies between the mouths of the Po and the Piave rivers. In 2018, 260,897 people resided in the Comune di Venezia, of whom around 55,000 live in the historical city of Venice. Together with Padua and Treviso, the city is included in the Padua-Treviso-Venice Metropolitan Area (PATREVE), which is considered a statistical metropolitan area, with a total population of 2.6 million.

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Munich is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria, the second most populous German federal state. With a population of around 1.5 million, it is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg, as well as the 12th-largest city in the European Union. The city's metropolitan region is home to 6 million people. Straddling the banks of the River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps, it is the seat of the Bavarian administrative region of Upper Bavaria, while being the most densely populated municipality in Germany. Munich is the second-largest city in the Bavarian dialect area, after the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Bust of Wolf-Ferrari in the Wolf-Ferrari-Haus, Ottobrunn Ottobrunn Wolf-Ferrari-Haus Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari Buste 1.jpg
Bust of Wolf-Ferrari in the Wolf-Ferrari-Haus, Ottobrunn

At age 19, Wolf-Ferrari left the conservatory and traveled home to Venice. There he worked as a choral conductor, married, had a son called Federico Wolf-Ferrari, and met both Arrigo Boito and Verdi. In 1900, having failed to have two previous efforts published, Wolf-Ferrari saw the first performance of one of his operas, Cenerentola, based on the story of Cinderella. The opera was a failure in Italy, and the humiliated young composer moved back to Munich. German audiences would prove more appreciative of his work; a revised version of Cenerentola was a hit in Bremen in 1902, while the cantata La vita nuova brought the young composer international fame.

Arrigo Boito Italian opera composer and librettist of Verdis opera Otello

Arrigo Boito, was an Italian poet, journalist, novelist, librettist and composer, best known today for his libretti, especially those for Giuseppe Verdi's operas Otello and Falstaff, and his own opera Mefistofele. Along with Emilio Praga, and his own brother Camillo Boito he is regarded as one of the prominent representatives of the Scapigliatura artistic movement.

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Wolf-Ferrari now began transforming the wild and witty farces of the 18th-century Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni into comic operas. The resulting works were musically eclectic, melodic, and utterly hilarious; every single one became an international success. In fact, until the outbreak of World War I, Wolf-Ferrari’s operas were among the most performed in the world. In 1902 he became professor of composition and director of the Liceo Benedetto Marcello.

Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello di Venezia Venezia

The Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello di Venezia is a conservatory in Venice, Italy named after composer Benedetto Marcello and established in 1876.

In 1911 Wolf-Ferrari tried his hand at full-blooded Verismo with I gioielli della Madonna ; a story of passion, sacrilege and madness. It was quite popular in its day and for a period after, especially in Chicago, where the great Polish soprano Rosa Raisa made it a celebrated vehicle. Maria Jeritza (and, later, Florence Easton) triumphed in it at the Metropolitan Opera, in an all-out spectacular production in 1926.

<i>I gioielli della Madonna</i> opera by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari

I gioielli della Madonna is an opera in three acts by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari to an Italian libretto by Carlo Zangarini and Enrico Golisciani, based on news accounts of a real event.

Rosa Raisa was a Polish-born and Italian-trained Russian-Jewish dramatic operatic soprano who became a naturalized American. She possessed a voice of remarkable power and was the creator of the title role of Puccini's last opera, Turandot, at La Scala, Milan.

Maria Jeritza Czech opera singer

Maria Jeritza was a Czech soprano singer, long associated with the Vienna State Opera (1912–1935) and the Metropolitan Opera. Her rapid rise to fame, beauty and personality earned her the nickname "The Moravian Thunderbolt".

World War I, however, was a nightmare for Wolf-Ferrari. The young composer, who had been dividing his time between Munich and Venice, suddenly found his two countries at war with each other. With the outbreak of the War, he moved to Zurich and composed much less, though he still wrote another comedy, Gli amanti sposi (1916). A new melancholy vein appeared in his post-war work; his operas grew darker and more emotionally complex.

Gli amanti sposi is an opera giocosa in 3 acts by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari to a libretto by Luigi Sugana, Giuseppe Pizzolato, Enrico Golisciani and Giovacchino Forzano, after Carlo Goldoni's Il ventaglio (1765). It premiered 19 February 1925 at La Fenice, Venice.

Wolf-Ferrari's grave in the San Michele cemetery. Wolfferrarigrave.jpg
Wolf-Ferrari's grave in the San Michele cemetery.

He did not really pick up his rate of output until the 1920s, when he wrote Das Himmelskleid (1925) and Sly (1927), the latter based on William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew . In 1939 he became professor of composition at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. In 1946 he moved again to Zürich before returning to his home city of Venice. He died in Venice at Palazzo Malipiero and is buried in the Venetian cemetery Island of San Michele.


As well as his operas, Wolf-Ferrari wrote a number of instrumental works, mainly at the very beginning and very end of his career. Only his violin concerto has ever been performed with anything approaching regularity, though he also wrote Idillio-concertino (essentially a chamber symphony), various pieces of chamber music including a piano quintet and two piano trios, three violin sonatas and a number of works for the organ amongst others.

Wolf-Ferrari's work is not performed very widely (with the exception of several of his overtures and his Jewels of the Madonna intermezzo) although he is generally thought of as probably the finest writer of Italian comic opera of his time. His works often recall the opera buffa of the 18th century, although he also wrote more ambitious works in the manner of Pietro Mascagni, which are thought of less well.



See List of operas by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari

Other vocal works


Chamber Music


Wolf-Ferrari, Ermanno by John C G Waterhouse, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1980) ISBN   0-333-23111-2

Wolf-Ferrari, Ermanno by John C G Waterhouse, in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera , ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1992) ISBN   0-333-73432-7

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  1. In manuscript, mentioned by Hamann in his Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, (Schneider, 1986). Performed in several concerts in Germany in 2011. - see