LA FINTA GIARDINIERA – THE PRETENDED GARDEN-GIRL
Brisbane September 2019
by Wis Jablonski, President
La finta giardiniera (Opera buffa, K. 196), is an Italian opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed and performed in Munich in January 1775. That was Mozart’s eighth opera produced when he was only eighteen years old.
The original libretto is attributed to Raniero de Calabigi. In 1780 Mozart converted the opera into a German Singspiel, which was the only known score until its complete Italian version was found in the 1970s. Libretto is as confused and as convoluted as Verdi’s Il Trovatore and when originally performed it lasted four and a half hours. Considering the circumstances, the young Mozart took what he was given and made the best of it. Along with his Symphony in G minor (K. 183) written the year before, La finta giardiniera marks the emergence of his mature style.
And for our cognoscenti: the longest of the frequently performed operas is Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. A normal uncut version of Singers performed in 1968 by the Sadler's Wells lasted five hours and fifteen minutes plus intervals. The opera The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin in seven acts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, USA on 14–15 Dec 1973 required thirteen hours and twenty five minutes. Act Seven was deemed by some to be the best.
On the night of the 7 th September my wife and I were at the full house premiere of La Finta Giardiniera, at the Queensland Conservatorium
Sandrina/Violante soprano Cassandra Wright
Serpetta soprano Kate Joy Stuart
Arminda soprano NinaWildman
Ramiro mezzo-soprano Xenia Puskarz-Thomas
Ramiro Understudy Sarah Winn
Belfiore tenor Phillip Costovski
Nardo bass Henry Pinder
Podesta baritone Ronan King-Rose
The acclaimed opera and theatre director Imara Savage led the team of dedicated professionals to produce the event of the colourful and suspenseful variety, taking us from the atelier of the TV reality show to Hawaii and back. Full complement orchestra of forty two under direction of Maestro Johannes Fritzsch and the cast of twenty eight singers, singing in Italian were playing, and acting with a vigour and excitement.
That brings me to the new, funny and controversial libretto by Ms Emme Hoy who has the arm-length list of achievements in Fine Arts in Writing for Performance.
This is a totally new and modern take on the La Finta with old and confusing libretto of the 18th century. Ms Hoy transported it to the 21st century using ‘new-speak’, videos, lights, cameras and mobile phones. It all contributed to the big night’s event. The modern text appeared on surtitles to the surprise, giggle and other funny reactions of the audience.
It reminds me of the Experimental Theatre where the introduction of a different use of language and body to change the mood of perception created a new, more active relation with the audience. Perhaps the words from Astrologer in The Golden Cockerel, opera by Rimsky Korsakov could tell us something more: ‘all is illusion and only a few things are real’.
In the case of La Finta only the genius’s music and the superb singing were real. Of course for the musical purists the new libretto could be an anathema but because of the terrific performance this new take could be easily overlooked and the opus enjoyed immensely.
Regardless, the trend continues and even progresses with the latest production of Invisible Cities (Brisbane Festival 2019) by Leo Warner. Mr Warner said “we are looking at things like mixed reality augmenting VR with real-world theatricality by using the life actors.”
In my opinion the whole cast performed superbly, but due to limitation of this review I wish to make only a few personal comments.
Kate Joy Stuart has been the engine of the show and she managed the occurring madness with ease; still a bit mad herself which add to lovely confusion and chaos.
Cassandra’s Sandrina/Violante was a delight to watch and listen to her singing. Among her other achievements is the title role in Manon in the Val Machin Opera Scenes.
Xenia caught my attention a few years ago with her exciting role of the Child in Ravel’s The Child and the Magic Spells, and later as Gladys Callaway in the highly acclaimed and successful opera by Paul Dean’s Dry River Run. After her recent stint in Italy and soon to New York, she sung brilliantly her role of Ramiro (originally designated to the male soprano/castrato) Watch that space - there is a new rising operatic star on the firmament of opera.
Phillip Costovski is a lyric tenor in a difficult role of a confused and guilt-ridden Belfiore. His great acting and singing contributed to his participation in quite a few roles, including Dry River Run.
Henry Pinder (I wrote about him before) sung the role of Nardo with his strong and mellow maturing bass voice. After a few months in Germany (including Bayreuth) he is going overseas again to conquer the world. His memorable roles included the Speaker in Mozart’s Magic Flute, Superintendent Budd in Britten’s Albert Herring and the Drunken Poet in Purcell’s Fairy Queen.
When all was done, the guests, well wishers and families of the artists gathered in the Con’s foyer sharing their special moments. The University’s top brass, including the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Carolyn Evans, were there to meet the young artists who made that evening so special.
I would like to acknowledge the generosity of the Queensland Conservatorium for providing us with the free tickets.
I acknowledge contribution of
Nick Morrissey, photographer, for providing three photos for this article.