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Mozart La finta giardiniera

Royal Academy Opera

21 November 2005

Conductor Iain Ledingham

Director John Ramster

Designer Vicki Cowan-Ostersen

Lighting Sarah Brown

 

Sandrina Amanda Forbes / Kishani Jayasinghe

Arminda Julia Sporsen / Claire Watkins

Serpetta Louse Deans / Fflur Wyn

Ramiro Katherine Allen / Catherine Hopper

Belfiore Nicholas Mulroy / Allan Clayton

Podesta Michael McBride

Nardo Viktor Rud / Ronan Collett

 

 

Mozart's early operas are relatively tender plants requiring warmth and lightness of touch in which to flourish, not the sort of arid pretentious atmosphere provided in John Ramster's staging for RAM. His basic set staging consisted of four blocks of steps and platforms covered in a gold Regency patterned fabric. These could be moved, ponderously and noisily, and assembled in a variety of configurations an elaborate garden parterre, a grand double staircase, a truncated set leading nowhere in particular.

 

It afforded some striking tableaux with the characters, in elegant period costumes and wigs, standing or sitting at various levels - something more to please the eye than engage the mind [Pictured Arminda (Julia Spòrsen)]. But it was a device which lost its novelty long before the third act, as did the characters ceaseless permutations of climbing or descending, pursuing or retreating, sitting or falling. Much work had obviously gone into the rehearsal of all this frenetic movement and posing in period gesture though somewhat at the expense of characterisation.

 

The opera has one of Mozart's dafter plots. Belfiore has stabbed his lover La Marchesa Violante Onesti in a fit of jealousy, and in revenge she has feigned death and escaped in disguise. At the start of the action Violante has assumed the identity of Sandrina, a gardener, and is in the employ of the Podesta del Lagonero, who wishes to marry her. The Podesta's indomitable niece Arminda has thrown aside her suitor Ramiro, and become engaged to Belfiore, but when he arrives for the wedding and encounters Sandrina the past begins to catch up with them. There follows a long round of scheming, misunderstanding and finally madness before both Violante and Belfiore and Arminda and Ramiro are reconciled.

 

As is so often the case, the servants have the largest slice of the comedy. Viktor Rudd (Nardo) was completely confident in his role, with a pleasingly disingenuous manner and a voice fully secure throughout the range and Louise Deans (Serpetta) was pertly pretty and equally fully in character, though this normally soprano role did not always lie comfortably for her high mezzo voice. The aristocrats were vocally of uniform merit but dramatically less convincing although Katherine Allen caught my eye for her stylish mastery of eighteenth century mannerisms. The chorus of footmen carried out their tasks with obsequious precision and not a little humour.

 

By the end of the evening there appeared to be few members of the audience who would disagree with history's verdict which has confined this opera to relative obscurity. As always the Royal Academy Sinfonia played well, but Iain Ledingham could have injected rather more liveliness into his reading I have fond memories of Ivor Bolton's sparkling performance with WNO a production with all the wit and polish so sadly lacking on this occasion.

 

Serena Fenwick

 

 

Photo credit: Bill Rafferty

 

© Peter Grahame Woolf