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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
La finta giardiniera – Dramma giocoso in tre atti, K.196 (1775)
Rudolf Schasching (tenor) – Don Anchise, Mayor of Lagonero, in love with Sandrina; Eva Mei (soprano) – Countess Violante Onesti, in love with Count Belfiore and believed dead, now in disguise as Sandrina, a gardener; Christoph Strehl (tenor) – Count Belfiore, formerly in love with Violante and now with Arminda; Isabel Rey (soprano) – Arminda, A lady of Milan, formerly in love with Cavaliere Ramiro and now betrothed to Count Belfiore; Liliana Nikiteanu (mezzo-soprano) – Cavaliere Ramiro, in love with Arminda but deserted by her; Julia Kleiter (soprano) – Serpetta, Maid to the Mayor and in love with him; Gabriel Bermudez (baritone) – Roberto, Servant to Violante, pretending to be her cousin, by the name of Nardo, disguised as a gardener and unrequitedly in love with Serpetta;
Statistenverein am Opernhaus Zürich
Orchestra “La Scintilla” der Oper Zürich/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Directed for Stage by Tobias Moretti; Set Design: Rolf Glittenberg; Costume Design: Renate Martin, Andreas Donhauser; Lighting Design: Jürgen Hoffmann;
Directed for TV and Video by Felix Breisach
rec. live, Opernhaus, Zürich, 23, 25 February 2006
Sound Formats: DD 5.1; DTS 5.1; LPCM Stereo; Picture Format 16:9
TDK DVWW-OPFINT [2 DVDs: 187:00]
 


Look at the presentation of the characters in the heading! You get the message, don’t you? It’s one of those comedies that abounds in confusion, disguises and mistakes but everything sorts itself out in the end. There isn’t much depth in the characters. Mozart at twenty had not yet become the great psychologist who could fill out the emptiness of the stock figures and inject life and blood. Maybe he wasn’t interested in this libretto but rather keen on getting an opportunity to write operas, something that Wolfgang Hildesheimer hints at in his Mozart monograph. Still the opera isn’t without interest since Mozart couldn’t avoid writing first class music whatever the circumstances. Had there been a telephone book in Munich at the time he could probably have set it to music as well. For La finta giardiniera he composed a string of pearls of beautiful arias.

At the premiere on 13 January 1775 the Munich audience were enthusiastic. Mozart wrote home to his mother: “… there was a terrible din with applause and shouting: Viva maestro.” What was new at the time was the mix of buffo and serious arias and what starts as pure comedy eventually becomes something less jolly. It ends, not in total happiness but having attained a clear-eyed view of life. Director Tobias Moretti goes some way in the booklet commentary to presenting it as a work of the Enlightenment, “removing the various veils and coverings from before the eyes, making room for light in hearts and minds …” quoting Christoph Martin Wieland. Maybe this is giving too much importance to a ho-hum libretto, but the work certainly ends with music of almost sacred character. There are hints at this duality as early as the overture. With hindsight one can see and hear an embryo of what would become fully developed a dozen years later in Don Giovanni. Belfiore’s second aria, Da Scirocco a Tramontana (DVD1 tr. 17) is a kind of catalogue aria, where he accounts for all his illustrious ancestors. Elsewhere he gives a couple of caricature-like arias to the Mayor. In act two there’s both a variant of the “maestro di cappella” aria with illustrative instrumental solos as well as something that could be a blueprint for Bartolo’s aria in Le nozze di Figaro. Sandrina’s cavatina (DVD1 tr. 23) is a serious piece full of genuine sorrow. In act 2 she has a dramatic opera seria aria that also points to the future.
 
Tobias Moretti has transported the action to the present time with all that this implies. Ramiro walks about with headphones around his neck and in one hilarious sequence puts them on and lets loose with some supposed hard rock song, exactly timed to Mozart’s music. I normally don’t care much about these journeys in time – the Harnoncourt Clemenza di Tito from Salzburg which I reviewed earlier this year was a scenic catastrophe – but this production worked tremendously well and the performance was a joy throughout. Well, not quite. Towards the end there was a feeling that both Mozart and the director were ticking over. However all of act one comes across as the most hilariously funny and entertaining opera comedy I can remember seeing, filled with gags and surprising turns. At times it felt more like watching a slapstick show than an opera performance but it was definitely done with taste – no cheap tricks. A rosette then to Tobias Moretti! Of course the performance would have fallen flat with less congenial actors. The whole cast turned out to be full-fledged comedians and the many close-ups gave telling evidence as to both the extraordinary acting talents engaged and the obviously very detailed instructions from the director.
 
Vocally, too, there wasn’t a weak link in the cast. Liliana Nikiteanu, in the trouser role as Ramiro, had a secure beautiful high mezzo-soprano with fluent coloratura. The experienced Rudolf Schasching, who spent a great part of act one consuming copious amounts of food and drink, has lost some of his former sonority but is today a splendid character singer. He executed the Mayor’s comic arias with aplomb. Sandrina/Violante is a serious role and Eva Mei had both the required power for the dramatic second act aria and the lyrical quality for the Cavatina. Gabriel Bermudez was an excellent comedian with wonderfully flexible facial expression and vocally he did what was possible with his not too inspiring arias. As Count Belfiore Christoph Strehl sported both dead-pan comic talent and one of the most mellifluous and beautiful lyrical tenor voices of today; still this department is unusually well-stocked at the moment. He is certainly destined for great things. Isabel Rey sang and acted her larger-than-life prima donna to perfection and she has developed from the fairly soubrettish young girl I heard a dozen or so years ago to a fully-fledged lyric dramatic soprano. The soubrette part in this opera, Serpetta, was taken excellently by Julia Kleiter, whose fresh, youthful voice was a pleasure to hear, just as much as her charmingly bitchy acting.
 
Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s credentials as a Mozart conductor are well known by now. He is a man of contrasts which was obvious in the overture where he worked with dynamic extremes. His intentions were well realised by the excellent orchestra “La Scintilla” – a suitable name since their playing on historical instruments was really scintillating. As always, period instruments lend an extra edge to the sound, making the music a degree more urgent. The  choice of tempos by this conductor has sometimes been controversial and in one or two instances there was a feeling of sluggishness – notably Belfiore’s catalogue aria – but in the main the music was admirably paced.
 
The sets were modern-functional: a two-storey façade backstage with doors and windows, the latter turned out to be TV screens on which off-stage action occasionally could be seen, as for example Arminda arriving by limousine. Flowers en masse in the first act, mostly cacti which were both subjected to shaving and Belfiore’s bottom landing on them. The floor was scattered with twigs which the actors had to avoid stumbling over and which towards the end of the act were placed around and over Sandrina and Belfiore as a symbolic funeral pyre. The act actually ended with a close-up of a spill being lit.
 
Not one of Mozart’s most important scores and the plot is so silly that Moretti’s approach is the only viable way to perform it today. The main reason for acquiring this set is the hilarious comedy – the first act especially – and the excellent singing of arias from at least the second uppermost drawer. When feeling low I will keep this set at hand to cheer me up.
 
Göran Forsling
 

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