First premiering on January 20 1892, “La Wally” is based on a story by Wilhelmine von Hillern titled “Die Geier-Wally: Eine Geschichte aus den Tyroler Alpen.” While possessing a bold heroine and a striking plot, the opera is seldom staged due to the difficulties of recreating the avalanche in Act IV.
Despite this, there exist a small handful of recordings of the work, featuring such sopranos as Renata Tebaldi and Eva Marton in the titular role.
Short Plot Summary
The opera begins in the Austrian state of Tyrol. In celebration of the 70th birthday of Wally’s father Stromminger, a hunting party arrives from the neighboring village of Solden for a shooting contest. The hunting party is led by Hagenbach, with whom Wally is in love despite him being the son of Stromminger’s old enemy. After a fight nearly breaks out, Gellner, who is love with Wally, informs Stromminger of his daughter’s infatuation with Hagenbach. When her father insists on having Wally marry Gellner over Hagenbach, Wally asserts that she would rather be left to the cold snows of the Alpine than marry Gellner. A year later, Wally has come to inherit her father’s fortune after his passing. She attends a festival held at a tavern in Soldern, knowing Hagenbach will be there. Although Hagenbach is engaged to Afra, the landlady of the tavern, he accepts a cruel wager where he is to win a kiss from Wally. Hagenbach succeeds, and when Wally finds out the circumstances of the kiss, she is driven mad with fury. She uses Gellner’s love for her to convince him to kill Hagenbach.
Later, when Wally’s anger has had time to cool after returning home, she is visited by Gellner. He tells her that he has thrown Hagenbach into a ravine for the insult he gave Wally. Repulsed by what her anger has wrought, Wally rushes over to the ravine and manages to climb down a rope in order bring Hagenbach to safety. Now consumed by sorrow, Wally climbs into the mountains, intent on taking her own life. As she readies herself for death, she hears Hagenbach calling out to her. He declares his love, much to Wally’s delight, and goes to find a safe route down the mountain. When he calls out to Wally again, his voice brings down an avalanche, under which Hagenbach is crushed. Determined to be with her lover in death, Wally throws herself into the avalanche.
Famous Musical Numbers
The opera’s most famous musical piece is the aria “Ebben! Ne andro lontana.” The aria is performed widely by all the famous sopranos of yesterday and today and is recognized for its sweeping melancholy and emotional build. The aria has also been showed in a number of films, including “A Single Man” and “Philadelphia.”
Watch and Listen
Here is a performance from 1990.