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Mozart, La finta semplice: Soloists & Orchestra of Guildhall School of Music & Drama/Nicholas Kok, 8.11.2005 (CC)



True, there is no doubting the young Wolfgang's talent - La finta semplice ('The Pretended Simpleton', K51/46a) was written when the composer was a mere 12 years old. And one has to bear in mind that the chances of seeing a staged production again in one's lifetime tend towards zero. Yet there are distinct moments where inspiration is in ebb-tide and it is to the Guildhall's credit that the attention remained fixed for at least most of this particular evening.

Sung in Italian with English titles, the Guildhall team provided a strong case for this work. Director William Kerley created a relatively simple experience. The set was purposely angular (lots of squares, right-angles abounded) in which the drama could be enacted. The use of space, in Act II in particular, was excellent.

The action takes place in Cremona in 1768, in and around the house of Don Cassandro (a misogynist) and his younger brother, Polidoro, and sister, Giacinta. Two soldiers, Captain Fracasso and Sergeant Simone have been billeted there; Fracasso loves Giacinta, while Simone loves her maid, Ninetta. But Don Cassandro is disapproving.

As so often in Mozartian drama, it is the maid that has the gift of a part, plotting, organizing and commentating upon the action with great comedy and ingenuity. Ninetta here was taken by the Portuguese soprano Joana Seara. No surprise to see she has also taken on Despina and Zerlina (there are plans for a Falstaff Nanetta at the Guildhall, too). The danger of this type of character is that it can so easily steal the show – as here. Seara's comedic timing was spot-on, as was her pitching. Her phrasing was always stylish and, perhaps most importantly, she has great stage presence.

Not all acting was up to this standard. Simone (Tom Oldham) was rather staid in his movements, but as a singer showed much promise. As did Frenchman Loïc Guguen, as Don Cassandro, who added more of a sense of fun to proceedings, particularly in his Act II 'drunkard's' aria. Fracasso's response of outrage (Nicholas Smith) was however very weak. Oliver Kuusik's Polidoro was (deliberately) very funny. Rosina (Hungarian Baroness,  sister of Fracasso and the pretended simpleton) was sung by Athens-born Lenia Safiropoulou with great charm. Safiropoulou has a great sense of Mozartian style that will stand her in good stead in the future, I have little doubt.

Ensembles revealed care in the casting of voices (particularly striking in the opening scene between Fracasso, Giacinta – the excellent Geneviève King – Simone and Ninetta). The finales to both Acts II and III worked very well indeed because of this. In general the ladies of the cast impressed more than the gentlemen. I certainly look forward to hearing and seeing more of Joana Seera and Lenia Safiropoulou.

The orchestra played well. The acoustic in the theatre at the Guildhall is, to say the least, unflattering (dry as a bone), and it must be admitted that high violins inevitably suffered from time to time. If you do want to explore this music, there is a version on Brilliant Classics with Helen Donath, Teresa Berganza and Anthony Rolfe-Johnson among the cast; the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra is conducted by Leopold Hager (97726).



Colin Clarke






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