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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
La finta giardiniera (1775)
Daniel Ohlmann (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 (Nardo)
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 behind 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 the garden 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, the props 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.
Göran Forsling

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