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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
La finta giardiniera - Dramma giocoso in three acts (1775)
Krešimir Špicer (tenor) – Don Anchise; Julie Martin du Thiel (soprano) – La Marchesa Violante (Sandrina); Bernard Richter (tenor) – Il Contino Belfiore; Anett Fritsch (soprano) – Arminda; Lucia Cirillo (mezzo) – Il Cavaliere Ramiro; Giulia Semenzato (soprano) – Serpetta; Mattia Olivieri (baritone) – Roberto (Nardo)
Orchestra del Teatro Alla Scala/Diego Fasolis
Stage Director: Frederic Wake-Walker
Sets and Costumes: Antony McDonald
Lighting: Lucy Carter
Fortepiano: James Vaughan
Harpsichord: Paolo Spadaro
Directed for Television by Daniela Vismara;
rec. 11 October 2018, Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Sung in Italian with subtitles in English, German, French, Korean, Japanese
Filmed in High Definition; Picture: 1080i/16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen;
Sound: LPCM Stereo/ DTS-HD MA 5.1; Region code: A,B,C
NAXOS Blu-ray NBD0129V [179 mins]

La Finta Giardiniera is Mozart’s coming-of-age opera, written when he was 18 and also his very first opera-buffa that actually reached the stage, in Munich’s carnival season in 1775. I have always thought of it as Mozart’s training ground for the heights he was to eventually achieve in Le Nozze di Figaro. It is also, as Margarida Mota-Bull pointed out in her excellent and informative review of the René Jacobs recording (review), the only Mozart opera that doesn’t use the Da Capo form for any of the arias. Instead Mozart utilized the sonata form for each one, which makes this opera sound somewhat different when compared to all of his others.

This new Blu-ray/DVD release from Naxos preserves a 2018 performance from La Scala which itself was a restaging of a 2014 production from the Glyndebourne Festival. Generally all goes well in this relatively inventive staging from Frederic Wake-Walker. He succeeds in clarifying some of the more confused plot elements of the libretto, such as Violante’s reason for transforming into the fake gardener-girl Sandrina of the title. For the most part I found the production to be highly enjoyable; my only real quibble with the stage direction was that he overused the device of having the principals undress themselves during their arias. Once makes the intended effect, then after that it’s a simple case of too much is not enough for the director.

On the musical side of things, Diego Fasolis leads the La Scala forces in a sprightly reading of the Overture. This marks the first time I have heard the La Scala orchestra use period instruments and it certainly is a complete success based on their showing here. Fasolis enlivens the proceeding enormously in an opera that can seem to drag a bit in other encounters on recordings and video.

The cast is a fine one indeed, the best of which is the riveting Croatian tenor Krešimir Špicer as the mayor Don Anchise. Špicer exhibits a timing and stage presence that is simply infectious and his clean incisive tone surmounts all of his vocal challenges. Bernard Richter is a pleasing Count Belfiore who exhibits a honeyed tone and fairly good comic timing when required. Mattia Olivieri as the servant Nardo possesses a penetrating baritone with a rich, almost buttery sounding tone and his scenes with his love, Serpetta, simply crackle with excitement.

The female members of the cast are also of a generally high level, topped by the bewitching Giulia Semenzato as the maid Serpetta. She presents a vivacious, subversive servant-girl which sets off her trenchant, focused soprano with its lovely, warm lower extension. Equally good is Anett Fritsch as the histrionic lady from Milan, Arminda. Fritsch’s vibrant, shapely tone teases and caresses her musical way towards her intended romantic target. She also looks fabulous as she gets to wear the most impressive costumes of the production. As Violante/Sandrina Julie Martin du Thiel has the hardest task among the cast in trying to enliven this rather drippy character. Vocally she succeeds well despite her voice having a tendency to turn rather white-sounding in her upper register. Lucia Cirillo who is both slender of form and tone is more than adequate as the lovelorn Don Ramiro. My preference is for a somewhat rounded mezzo sound in Mozart but Cirillo is a fine substitute nonetheless.

Superb sound and picture quality make this a good recommendation for those curious about Mozart’s early comic opera. It compares well against other versions I have viewed. This release now marginally gets the nod over Doris Dörrie’s wonderfully quirky production, set in a gardening shop, for DG’s Mozart 22 series from Salzburg, which was my previous choice for a video of this opera.

Mike Parr

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