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Mozart La Finta Giardiniera
on DVD from Zurich & live in London

Drama giocoso K.196
Libretto: Johann Franz Joseph Stierle d. Ä. or Andreas Schachtner, after the original by Giuseppe Petrosellini. Première: 1780, Augsburg

Zurich Opera (live, 23/25 February 2006)


Eva Mei (Sandrina)
Isabel Rey (Arminda)
Liliana Nikiteanu (Ramiro)
Christoph Strehl (Belfiore)
Rudolf Schasching (Don Anchise)
Julia Kleiter (Serpetta)
Gabriel Bermudez (Nardo)

Orchestra “La Scintilla” der Oper Zürich/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Stage Director - Tobias Moretti
Costumes - Martin & Donhauser


This production would probably not have been mounted without the anniversary fever that dominates the music business these days. It is an opera which requires quite a lot of help and a performance last November in London's Royal Academy of Music was less than convincing that the exercise was worth-while.

Zurich's sophisticated take on La Finta Giardiniera (not to be confused with the 12-year old Mozart's La Finta Semplice) is a triumph of collaboration between Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conducting Zurich's period instrument orchestra, and Tobias Moretti, a brilliant stage director who achieves miracles of opera singing/acting.

The difficulty is maintaining interest throughout the numerous lemgthy da capo arias; it is achieved faultlessly with stage business which creates individuated characters from stock characters, and it is enhanced by unperturbable singing of highest standard whilst maintaining assigned personae whilst negotiating a tricky stage floor littered with twigs which have everyone not quite tripping up; inconceivable double skills only a few decades ago.

I believe Mozart would take the points and love it as we did, because it never contradicts or undermines music which is decent and made to seem better in this context than it perhaps really is. Not a dull moment, the eyes preventing attention wandering from the sound.

The first act, set in a garden of cactuses, is one of the funniest I have ever seen on operatic DVD. The second, a mirror image of the librettist(s) plotting, has all descending into 'magical confusion', and the partial resolution in the last is in a bitter-sweet mood of 'depression - a kind of lyrical powerlessness'. It ends without the anticipated triumph of love. 'Healing lies elsewhere, probably in the music', concludes Tobias Moretti's thoughtful essay.

Emerging as "maybe the most underappreciated of Mozart's operas - - as significant a milestone in Mozart's musical development as Idomeneo" this invaluable release is a marvellous vindication of theatrical updating and DVD technology, with perfectly balanced sound and camera work which makes more of the jokes than you might get in the opera house; that and the unexpected lack of a "feel good" conclusion may explain the slightly luke-warm response to the show in the only live review in English I've come across. Don't miss it.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Eva Mei & Christoph Strehl as Sandrina & Belfiore in the last scene

Mozart La Finta Giardiniera
Royal Opera House 21 September 2006
(First production at Covent Garden)

Kurt Streit, Genia Kühmeier, Robert Murray, Camilla Tilling, Sophie Koch, Patrizia Biccirè, Christopher Maltman English Baroque Soloists/ John Eliot Gardiner
Libretto Calzabigi/Coltellini (q.v. different list above!)
Director Loy/Haller
Designer Herbert Murauer

- - the work of a young genius driven in a new direction by a dark and irresistibly powerful force - - (Abert)

The Covent Garden production of this "not quite a masterpiece" (John Eliot Gardiner) vindicates its revivals in the current "Mozart year" and should assure it regular future performances and even maybe eventual inclusion in "the canon".

The opera's genesis stems from Samuel Richardson's Pamela, which spawned a plethora of plays and operas, Piccini's La buona figliola unprecedently successful.

La Finta Giardiniera is a marvellous exploration of fraught human relationships, and I am glad that both productions resist the hollow "happy ending"( Patrizia Biccirè). The programme book is full of illuminating essays to put this problem opera in context. Researched by Gardiner and incorporating new critical discoveries (Berke 2004 - yet to be published) this is a worthy recreation, put across from pit and stage with total conviction.

The presentation is darker than Moretti's, more Drama than giocoso, and the staging not entirely satisfactory; from the back stalls one cannot see the water in the garden pool around which the action revolves, with glimpses of splashing and one immersion. The disguised heroine's frock seemed wrong for her assumed role?

But musical values were strong; Gardiner seeming to want to outdo Harnoncourt in the pungency of the orchestra's contribution, and the all-round singing quality is admirable. Annika Haller handles the final get-together of Count and Marchioness with exactly the right equivocation - they'll give the relationship another try, but without any confidence that it'll work...

Not to be missed, and do treat yourself to the DVD too.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Photo credit Bill Cooper (Robert Murray replacing Christoph Strehl)
See more of Bill Cooper's production images at The Opera Critic

Peter Grahame Woolf