Opera buffa, the comic opera, is always a welcome entertainment. Unlike the opera seria, always dealing with gods, epic themes and ancient heroes, La Finta Giardiniera (“The Pretend Garden-Girl”) follows seven characters in a fast paced succession of disguise, misunderstandings, confusions, violence, temporary insanity, extreme feelings and, for most characters, a happy ending. There is no ring to rule the world (and we are not talking Tolkien), but unadulterated fun.
The entertaining libretto got a complex and rich musical treatment, becoming the tipping point between Mozart’s early operas and its most mature ones. This opera is relatively unknown, it’s not as sublimely exquisite as Don Giovanni or Die Zauberflöte, nor as demanding on the singers. But strokes of genius dot this opera.
The decor presented in the Grand Theatre was minimal: a wall with a door, two chairs, four standing flowers and hanging flowers. A beautiful elegant setting by Vincent Boussard which provided the right amount of context and framed effectively the music and the performance. The orchestra led by Andreas Spering was effective and captured the feelings of the audience, pushing us into the raging fits of Arminda, or Don Ramiro’s furor, or accelerating us to the fast paced craziness of all the characters.
The singers were powerful and delivered with flying colors. The ensemble finales were energetic, perfectly timed, and every bit as grandiose as opera should be. Colin Balzer as Il Podesta mixed colorful vocals with the most comedic performance of the troupe. John Chest’s Nardo drove ovations from the crowd. At the end, it was Julie Robard-Gendre interpretation of Don Ramiro, a role wrote for a castrato, who stood out with a shining performance of the night.
The only area where I expected more was the scenography. The comic interpretation of the opera was somehow lackluster, bland. For a script whose main characters are Count Belfiore and the Marchioness Violante Onesti, who were lovers until Belfiore stabbed Violante in a fit of rage, and still desire each other madly, intermingled with multiple love triangles, or more precisely a big love heptagon, the level of physical comedy was stiff.
This performance and presentation is an excellent initiation to the opera. Fun to watch, musically glorious, and engaging from beginning to end. In case you missed it, try to attend the second pass. But if you can’t, do yourself a favor and go get a good disc (or even a YouTube recording, there are a couple of excellent ones) and immerge in the spectacle for three unforgettable hours. You’ll be humming it in the morning, I guarantee you that.
The best: The ensemble finales.
The worst: Having to cut out 30+min of a long work. I understand the need, but I could have stayed one extra hour.
The most comic: Nardo is trying to seduce Serpetta. First he tries the Italian way: singing in Italian, with a gentlemanly posturing. Second he tries the French way: singing French, with a baroque elegant dance, to no avail. Finally he desperately tries English, with broken English and the most clownish and clumsy movements of the night. Who knew that was the English way?