La Finta Giardiniera – “the pretend Garden-Girl”: this being Mozart’s second Opera, it perhaps lacks the maturity of his later works, such as the likes of Don Giovanni or The Marriage of Figaro. However, there is a certain flair to this Opera which can be drawn out if under the right direction, and in the case of last week’s production which came to Norwich Theatre Royal, Director Frederic Wake-Walker demonstrates its many creative possibilities, with an apt re-imagining of this often neglected piece of Opera.
Opening onto a Baroque setting, we are met with a violent scene, in which we are confronted by what looks like the fatal stabbing of La Marchesa Violante by her jealous lover, Count Belfiore. This first scene builds the foundations for what will then become, somewhat, a comedy of farce. It feels important that Wake-Walker stages this imagery of demise at the beginning of the performance, as it initiates a deconstruction of the pretence which runs through the initial interactions of each character. The exuberance and grandeur of the setting adds to the sense of charade that will continue to run throughout the show, with the characters gradually unravelling this element until a complete collapse of the very pillars of this insincere and flimsy sphere.
With a quick transition from the opening scene, we are then propelled into the world of Don Anchise, the Podesta, to whom Violante has come, under the guise of Sandrina – posing as a garden attendant. There is a rather clunky plot line which builds upon certain stock characters, scorned by love and leading to a series of interconnecting lines of reference between each character, and essentially a messy tangle of love interests. When Count Belfiore enters the scene, now betrothed to the Podesta’s niece, Arminda, he is haunted by the face of Sandrina, who denies her identity as the aristocratic Violante.
Although at times the story feels like it could have been significantly condensed, with certain moments seeming to extend beyond interest, Wake-Walker creates a splendid display in which the great talent of the cast is exhibited through their ability to play on the strengths of this Opera, drawing out the comic aspects to great effect.
Mattio Olivieri puts forward an incredible performance as Nardo, Violante’s loyal servant, who despite initially presenting himself as the classic bumbling fool, comes to be the embodiment of reason amongst the madness which ensues. The interaction between Nardo and Serpetta (Eliana Pretorian) is beautifully crafted, and the two join together to create a marvellous comic duo.
The vocals of Rosa Feola, who takes on the role of the dual-identity of Sandrina and Violante, are often haunting, wrapping the audience up in a personal tale of betrayal and sadness. Feola manages to create a distinct voice between personas, with a lightness of tone peeling away the melancholic note as she undresses herself from the guise of Sandrina, re-crafting herself as Violante, renewed through a state of madness which proves purer and more sincere.
Perhaps this Opera does not stage the classic elements desired by the true opera-lover, with no truly heart-stopping scores that one may encounter with the later works of Mozart; however, it showcases the young Mozart’s budding talent to great effect. There is a fun and lively pace to this Opera which allows the audience to walk away feeling they have truly gained a taste of the high comedy which can be found in the most unexpected of places.