Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Lyrics: Anonymous text, thought to be by Giuseppe Petrosellini after Goldoni
Director: Frederic Wake-Walker
Conductor: Christopher Moulds
Reviewer: Tim Frost
Mozart’s second opera is no Figaro but it shows that the eighteen year old already possessed a dramatic understanding and compositional lightness that belied his years. First performed in Munich in January 1775, it closed within a few days, and is rarely staged today. In the wrong hands, the complicated plot and lengthy scenes might easily tire out the modern opera goer, but fortunately Director Frederic Wake-Walker plays up to the comedic possibilities of the piece. The Baroque frills of the traditional-looking set are not what they seem to be, and things go deliberately wrong as we applaud the wrong character and bits of scenery start falling down.
The fake female gardener of the title is mirrored in various bits of fakery, including the characters themselves, who seem to be ill at ease with being live on stage. One can’t remember the lines so picks up a crib sheet from a cupboard in the set. Another falls through the door when it opens. The sumptuous baroque room where the action takes place becomes paper-thin in the second act and the whole cast end up throwing Antony McDonald’s set around like delighted children, as the props are revealed to be cardboard. Moreover, none of the scenes actually take place in the garden hinted at by the title, but the destroyed set reveals a thick forest with a path through it, as though the palace where the action takes place has long become overgrown and lost.
There is underlying violence in the story, played out during the overture in this production, as Count Belfiore has stabbed his lover Violante. Having survived, she assumes a new identity as Sandrina and is searching for her lover despite being left for dead. Belfiore has moved on to Arminda, but is haunted by Sandrina, whom he recognises as Violante. She repeatedly denies her true identity, eventually causing herself and Belfiore to lose their reason and imagine themselves as Greek Gods and nymphs. It all ends, of course, with reconciliation and happily-ever-afters.
Italian soprano Rosa Feola sparkles as Sandrina/ Violante and Enea Scala balances the violence and lyricism of Count Belfiore to perfection. Most impressive turn belongs to Eliana Pretorian as Serpetta, who somehow manages to stay so still during the start of Act 2 that it is a genuine shock to find that she isn’t just one of the props. Eleonore Marguerre has superb strength as Arminda, particularly when wigless, she confronts Belfiore in Act II. Hanna Hipp, Timothy Robinson and Mattia Olivieri complete the fine international cast. Conductor Christopher Moulds deftly accentuates the humour of the young Mozart’s crackling score which gives an inkling of future operatic masterpieces.
Much comedy comes through in the recitative sections, with exaggerated moves from which the characters attempt to start a dance craze, YMCA-style. The fun is clearly there in the original lyrics, particularly when the characters sing about each other as musical instruments, and a delighted Mozart paints the sounds with all of his youthful verve.
Glyndebourne, so long associated with Mozart, has never before staged this opera, and it is part of a fitting tribute to Sir George Christie, whose initiative established the Tour in 1968 and who died in May this year.
La Finta Giardiniera is not one of the great operas, and those looking for a deep emotional experience will find it elsewhere. But the wonderful staging, which doesn’t take anything very seriously, makes for an excellent evening and a chance to see a rarity given the lush Glyndebourne treatment.
Glyndbourne Touring Opera are in Canterbury until 8 November, then touring