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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
La Finta Gardiniera - Opera buffa in three acts K196 (1775)
Don Anchise, Podestá or mayor, in love with Sandrina - Carlo Allemano (tenor); The Marchesa Violante, in disguise as a gardener under the name of Sandrina - Erin Morley (soprano); Comte Belfiore, fiancé of Arminda and previously of Violante/Sandrina - Enea Scala (tenor); Arminda, Don Anchise's niece formerly in love with Ramiro - Marie-Adeline Henry (soprano); Ramiro, sometime fiancé of Arminda and a friend of Don Anchise - Marie-Claude Chappuis (mezzo); Serpetta, Don Anchise's housekeeper and enamoured of him - Maria V. Savastano (soprano); Roberto, Violante/Sandrina’s servant disguised as a gardener called Nardo and in love with Serpetta - Nikolay Borchev (bass)
Le Concert d'Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm
Stage Director: David Lescot
Set Designer: Alwyne de Dardel
Costume Designer: Sylvette Dequest
Lighting designer: Paul Beaureilles
Video Director: Jean-Pierre Loisil
rec. 22, 25 March 2014, Opéra de Lille, France.
DVD Format: NTSC; Picture Format: 16.9
Sound Format: PCM2.0/Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitle languages: Italian (original language), English, German, French
Booklet notes: English, French. German
ERATO DVD 2564 616645 [74:00 + 101:00]

In the summer of 1774 the eighteen-year-old Mozart was invited to write the second carnival opera for the coming Munich winter season. In Munich the second production, seen early in the New Year was traditionally less important than the first and was comic rather than serious. The official genre of dramma giocosa, rather than opera buffa, implies a dramatic story with a happy ending. A virtue of the genre is that the composer did not have to wait to hear the singers before composing. The casting was more by type and comic aptitude than by voice. The need for seven principal voices would have been welcome to the eighteen year old and it is probable that most of the music was written before he left the family home in Salzburg.

With a plot of extravagant complexity, La finta giardiniera provides early evidence of Mozart’s ability to capture the more serious truths that lurk beneath a farcical surface. In reading the header to this review of the various relationships, past and present between the characters, it is also necessary to know the action that precedes the opera, something of which is illustrated in the acting during the overture (DVD1.CH 2). Despite the seemingly complex nature of the relationships, the work has been rising in popularity in recent years. There have been productions in such operatic centres as Berlin and Moscow and the Glyndebourne and Buxton festivals. It will also be staged at the Santa Fe Opera, New Mexico, in Summer 2015.

Its central character is a young noblewoman, Violante Onesti, who is disguised as a gardener who goes under the name of Sandrina. She is recovering from the emotional and physical wounds inflicted on her by her former lover Count Belfiore who is now betrothed to the tempestuous Arminda. The various other relationships, and their resolution, lie at the heart of the opera and of Mozart’s musical resolution of the complexities.

In terms of musical structure, the most interesting features in La finta giardiniera are the finales to acts 1 and 2. Six years before Idomeneo, his more mature opera seria, the orchestration is distinctly richer compared with his earlier more youthful opera seria. It is also occasionally possible to hear pre-echoes of the greater works in the opera giocosa genre to come ten years later in Mozart’s masterly creations with the librettist Da Ponte.

The French conductor Emmanuelle Haïm conducts her small-sized music ensemble Le Concert d'Astrée with a light and sympathetic hand. David Lescot’s direction is simple and straightforward, particularly in act one, when the complexities of the relationships and the character of the various roles are revealed. In this he is aided by the simplicity of the set, a simple garden with the only activity to distract, but making dramatic sense, is the frequent arrival and movement of plants and even hedges. A mini design coup de théâtre is achieved in act two as the rear of the stage drops forward to make the set for the neighbouring forest where wild animals are reputed to live and where Sandrina goes (DVD 2 CH.9).

The light orchestral textures and the simplicity of the set staging allow for the easy basis of understanding of the extravagant complexities of the plot. Unlike Mozart’s three collaborations with da Ponte, each with complex subplots and variety of circumstances, great voices are not an essential. What is required, and is secured here, is a cast of singing actors who can convey the contortions of the plot by body language allied with vocal skill and sung nuance. The soloists in this staging provide just those skills. Assisted by the setting and the direction along with musical support from the orchestra they combine to realise a masterly performance that should do much to bring this neglected work to a wider audience. Erin Morley is superb as Violante/Sandrina in both sung skill as well as acting. Neither Enea Scala as Belfiore, nor Carlo Alemano is a Mozart tenor in Ottavio mould, but they scale Mozart’s musical demands with skill if not vocal mellifluousness. Marie-Adeline Henry’s dominatrix Arminda and Marie-Claude Chappuis’s foppish tennis loving Ramiro are excellent realisations. Maria Savastano’s sprightly Serpetta and Nikolay Borchev’s servant keep the social structures in line.

Regrettably the booklet information is sparse and there is no Chapter (track) listing. For information act 1 is on DVD 1 Chapters 2-14; Acts 2 and 3 are on DVD 2, Chapters 1-11 and 12-17 respectively.
Robert J Farr



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