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La finta giardiniera (1775)
(tenor) – Don Anchise; Alexandra Reinprecht
(soprano) – La Marchesa Violante (Sandrina); Norman Shankle
(tenor) – Il Contino Belfiore; Cellia Costea (soprano) – Arminda;
Helene Schneiderman (mezzo) – Il Cavaliere Ramiro; Irena
Bespalovaite (soprano) – Serpetta; Rudolf Rosen (baritone) – Roberto
Staatsorchester Stuttgart/Lothar Zagrosek,
Director: Jean Jourdheuil; Stage Design and Costumes: Mark
Lammert; Lighting: Klaus E. Zimmermann; Dramaturgy: Juliane
Votteler; Directed for Television and Video by Hans Hulscher;
Sound Format: PCM Stereo; Picture Format: 16:9
ARTHAUS MUSIC 101253 [139:00]
As the play begins a semi-transparent fan hides the stage
from view. Before the overture starts a dramatic scene is enacted
the fan, a man knocking down a woman and then stabbing her
repeatedly, giving the audience a clue as to what happened
before the action of the opera begins.
The overture, well played on period instruments, encourages the prospect
of a performance in 18th century costumes and
likewise sets. When the fan slowly folds during the last
part of the overture we get a presentiment that this will
not be so. The sets are simple, almost minimalist: walls
on three sides with numerous narrow doors in them and on
the stage floor are scattered pyramids, cubes, cones and
sundry other geometrical objects. In some of the doors actors
are standing motionless, hiding their faces, but dressed,
thank God, in period outfit. A woman with a bandage covering
her eyes starts to decorate the wall with flowers by simply
pricking the stems through the board. It is of course the
garden girl of the title.
The opera as a whole is a dramma giocoso. There seems to be some uncertainty
as regards the librettist. Some sources say Ranieri Calzabigi,
best known for his collaboration with Gluck on Orfeo ed
Euridice but it is more commonly believed that Giuseppe
Petrosellini, who wrote the libretto for Paisiello’s Il
barbiere di Siviglia, is the guilty party. Certainly
it would never have been nominated for an 18th century
Nobel Prize for literature.
It plays in Lagonero, a place just as faked as the garden
girl. The old silly Mayor (Don Anchise) is infatuated in
girl, Sandrina. She is in reality La Marchesa Violante, who
has disguised herself to investigate the doings of her true
love, Count Belfiore. In a fit of jealousy he has earlier
injured her and left her seemingly lifeless – that’s what
happened behind the fan before the overture. The Mayor’s
servant girl, Serpetta, is however determined to marry her
master – not for love though – and rejects Nardo’s proposal.
Nardo is really La Marchesa’s man-servant but is also disguised
as gardener. The Mayor’s niece Arminda rejects her suitor
Ramiro – the trouser role in this opera – in favour of Belfiore,
who has put off Violante for Arminda. Are you with me? This
is the first act. In the second act the mix-ups are settled
when Violante reveals her identity to save Belfiore from
the accusations of having murdered her. Immediately after
this she resumes her role as Sandrina, explaining that her
confession was sheer madness – and the act ends in even greater
confusion. In the third and last act everything is cleared
up, Arminda accepts Ramiro and Serpetta agrees to marry Nardo.
Any production of this opera can be a bit long-winded, with wonderful
music for sure but the dramatic flow is stemmed by too many
and too long arias for Belfiore and Sandrina. The Harnoncourt
version, which I reviewed last year (see review)
survived thanks to a hilariously funny first act, though
losing a little impact later on. The present Stuttgart production
is – well – different.
Those geometrical props, placed – or so it seems – at random, are
used to sit on, stand on, lie on, bang on or move around.
The actors certainly act, but not in any discernibly logical
way. Sometimes they stand in strange positions, sometimes
they execute gymnastic movements, sometimes they suddenly
contract epilepsy. They run about, crawl about, fall flat
and Sandrina sometimes tortures poor Belfiore with a rapier.
It’s all a cross between a ward in a lunatic asylum and an
absurdist play by Ionescu. But it is all great fun – even
though I can’t figure out what it has to do with the play.
OK, the story is so absurd and illogical in itself that this
is the only logical way to perform it, may be the director’s
message. And maybe we can settle at that: It’s a mad, mad,
mad, mad world …
Anyway, the cast is a good one and they both act and sing
well. After the interval, which occurs after the first act,
are removed from the stage, thus leaving room for even more
focus on the actors. Maybe one shouldn’t mention single people
out in what in effect is an ensemble performance, but head
and shoulders above the rest, literally and action-wise is
Daniel Ohlmann as the Mayor. His isn’t the biggest role but
in this production he functions as the pivot around which
everything circles. He is almost omnipresent, creating a
fabulous character, who – to give just a vague impression
of what he looks like – is a mix of Cary Grant at his coolest
and Basil Fawlty at his. The performance is worth
seeing for his background acting alone but the others all
contribute well to the mess.
Lothar Zagrosek and his orchestra do their best to support the action
with stylish playing and well functioning tempos. One of
the double bass players even becomes temporarily involved
in the stage proceedings.
To be honest I don’t think I am willing to see any production
of La finta giardiniera too often. When I come in
to that mood I will probably choose Harnoncourt as a somewhat
more intelligible and more down-to-earth alternative with
even more accomplished singing from some of the participants.
However, when the full moon beams and the werewolves howl
I might air this Stuttgart production as a reminder that
those creatures out there in the bleak night sometimes have
their superiors in the opera house.
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