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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
La finta Giardiniera (1774) – Námešt version (Prague 1796)
Sandrina/Violante – Sophie Karthäuser (soprano)
Contino Belfiore – Jeremy Ovenden (tenor)
Arminda – Alex Penda (soprano)
Cavaliere Ramiro – Marie-Claude Chappuis (mezzo)
Podestà – Nicolas Rivenq (baritone)
Serpetta – Sunhae Im (soprano)
Roberto/Nardo – Michael Nagy (bass)
Freiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, September 2011
Booklet with full libretto in Italian with English, French and German translations; notes and artists’ biographies in French, English and German
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902126-28 [3 CDs: 80.14 + 74.46 + 30.11]

Mozart was only eighteen years old when he composed La finta giardiniera. While it is not one of his masterpieces, it is an accomplished, to my mind rather beautiful work. It demonstrates how much Mozart’s music had evolved since Lucio Silla – his last opera before this one. Sadly, in its original format and sung in Italian, it received only three performances during Mozart’s lifetime. Apparently, its premiere kept being postponed due to an ailing prima donna and a slightly chaotic orchestra. It was performed again while the composer was still alive but translated into German and in the format of a Singspiel.
La finta giardiniera (The Pretend Gardener) was commissioned for the Munich Carnival of 1775 and Mozart wrote it in December 1774. The piece was innovative, particularly the Act I and II finales with a colourful variety of harmonies, rhythms and instrumentation. They are all far more advanced than anything his contemporaries had then achieved in Italy. Additionally and something I particularly enjoy in this opera, is the fact that Mozart wrote most of the arias in sonata format and that there are no da capo arias. The music has quality and is very effective, showing already some of the great marks of Mozart’s style. This would produce, approximately eleven years later, the marvel that was Le nozze di Figaro, followed by the other two da Ponte operas and Die Zauberflöte. The name da Ponte brings to mind the fact that the libretto to La finta giardiniera is in my opinion not so good and the plot is over complicated. However, the storyline is less important on a CD and the piece demonstrates not only Mozart’s special touch for drama but also his extraordinary ability to combine the comic with the moving and poignant. He was to achieve this later, again in Le nozze di Figaro, to perfection.
Five years after Mozart’s death, in 1796, La finta giardiniera was performed, in Prague, but with many parts curtailed and the score re-orchestrated in the style of late Mozart. This is the version that René Jacobs chose to perform in this rather wonderful recording. In his fascinating, detailed essay “Metamorphosis of a ‘work in progress’” (included in the CD booklet), Jacobs details all the aspects of the Prague version. There is also reference to the speculation that the orchestrations, which point to the work of the composer in his later operas, might have been reworked by Mozart himself just before he died or, if not, by an artist with an excellent knowledge of Mozart’s music. Whether one or the other, we may never know but what Jacobs achieves here is an admirable interpretation of an early Mozart opera. The Freiburger Barockorchester is in great form and gives an outstanding performance under Jacobs’ leadership, expressing all the colours, witty and moving moments with great clarity. Jacobs generally increases the tempi, which I personally found an enhancement to the score. It makes it more lively, brighter, thus leaving a more lasting impression. Mozart would probably have applauded this exceptional performance.
Alongside, the excellent orchestra, Jacobs assembled a first-rate, young and enthusiastic cast, with attractive voices, good comic timing and a sense of the dramatic. Although we are only listening, the twists and turns of the plot, and the disguises of certain characters – as for example, the marchesa Violante who is disguised as Sandrina, the gardener – are subtly but vividly brought to life, making the audio experience all the more enjoyable. This is achieved by the fact that the singers manage to change their voices ever so slightly, which is not an easy thing to do, depending on who they are at a given moment in the performance. In terms of the cast, to my mind, the women have the upper hand, in particular, Swiss mezzo Marie-Claude Chappuis in the trouser role of Ramiro, whose tone is rather warm and pleasing. Sophisticated, accomplished Bulgarian soprano Alex Penda (Alexandrina Pendatchanska, her real name; a regular collaborator of Jacobs) as Arminda, sings the role with great ease and dramatic vigour. The always notable Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser, in the title role of the phony gardener, sings the part exquisitely.
This recording is unusual, different, pleasing and of excellent quality. It is well presented and the booklet includes not only the customary CD notes but also an essay by René Jacobs that makes informative, rather interesting reading. The booklet also contains the complete libretto in Italian with French, English and German translations.
Jacobs’ interpretation of Mozart’s La finta giardiniera is one that opera lovers in general should have in their collection.
Margarida Mota-Bull
(Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at