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Opera Daily 🎶 — Secrets and Cigarettes
This week's Opera Daily features “O gioia la nube leggera,” a soprano aria from the one-act Italian opera Il segreto di Susanna
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Today we’re listening to…
“O gioia la nube leggera,” a soprano aria from the one-act Italian opera Il segreto di Susanna (Susanna’s Secret) by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari.
🌟 Spotlight on Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: A Venetian composer who beautifully blended Germanic musical structure with Italian lyricism. While many of his contemporaries delved into the dramatic world of verismo (incorporating more “realistic” subjects, dramatic strategies, and musical materials), Wolf-Ferrari chose a different path. Drawing inspiration from older sources like Carlo Goldoni’s plays, he crafted works filled with charm, fun, and classical balance. His operas, like Il segreto di Susanna, are refreshing and provide an intimate glimpse into human nature and societal conventions.
When it comes to Il segreto di Susanna, Wolf-Ferrari paints a vivid picture of a newlywed couple's domestic life, full of misunderstandings and overreactions.
The aria we are listening to today depicts Countess Susanna enjoying a moment alone with her favorite vice – a cigarette. In the early 20th century, when this opera is set, it was still frowned upon for women to smoke, so Susanna is a woman ahead of her time. This aria’s light and playful nature really captures the essence of Susanna’s cheeky rebellion.
🎧 Treat Your Ears: (6 minute listen): Soprano Renata Scotto singing "O gioia la nube leggera" from Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's Il segreto di Susanna
A Glimpse into Il segreto di Susanna:
Premiere: Munich, December 4, 1909.
Behind the Aria: Newlywed Countess Susanna has a secret - she loves to smoke. In a society where such a habit is deemed “unladylike,” she keeps this joy hidden from her husband. As the Count begins to smell the tobacco in their home, he becomes suspicious, thinking there might be another man. Little does he know the other man is his wife’s secret vice.
Wolf-Ferrari's Touch: Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari had an uncanny ability to bring to life the comedic elements of everyday situations in his operas. In this aria, Countess Susanna sings about the sheer joy and liberation she feels while smoking. The “light cloud” she refers to in the aria is the smoke from her cigarette. Wolf-Ferrari's music captures the bubbly, almost intoxicating sensation of Susanna's forbidden pleasure. The melody is playful and slightly mischievous, reflecting Susanna’s delight in her little act of rebellion. Throughout the opera, he uses thematic material to represent both Susanna and her secret, especially evident in the aria we spotlight today.
🎼 Craving More? You can listen to a full recording online here:
Grateful for your time and ears,
PS. Missed our last edition? We featured "Roxana’s Song", an aria from Act 2 of the Polish opera Król Roger (King Roger) by Karol Szymanowski.
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