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Mozart – La finta semplice

Guildhall School of Music & Drama 7 November 2005

Conductor – Nicholas Kok
Director – William Kerley
Designer – Tom Rogers
Lighting – Matthew Eagland

Rosina – Celeste Lazarenko
Don Cassandro – David Stout
Don Polidoro – Oliver Kuusik
Giacinta – Helen Evora
Ninetta – Joana Seara
Fracasso – Bragi Bergthorsson
Simone – Tom Oldham

Coming from a family with several generations of a landscape gardening connections I am a sucker for topiary and was delighted by the formal garden, with finely mown lawn and maze in Tom Rogers' elegant opening set, a perfect complement to this stylised comedy from the pen of a 12 year old Mozart.    As the story progressed the neatly clipped hedges were swiftly re-positioned, carpets laid out to represent carriageways, and the trees and mansion re-scaled in true perspective.    The pervasively green colour was carried through into the interiors – the hedges turning to reveal furnishings and cupboards, and even the “surtitles” on two sides screens were displayed against a green background (wonderfully sharp, and appropriately economical, switching off when it was just repetition).  

As noted above, Mozart wrote La finta semplice at the age of 12, as we needed to remind ourselves during this not unsophisticated entertainment.   The plot is a convoluted one, unfolded clearly in William Kerley's direction.   Giacinta wishes to marry Fracasso, but her brothers disapprove and are scornful of love.   Her maid Ninetta hatches up a plot in which Fracasso's sister Rosina conspires to ensnare both brothers and persuade them agree to the weddings – which will conveniently Ninetta's marriage to Simone.     Musically it is far more sophisticated than his years, and with the benefit of hindsight it is easy to discern some of the elements that he would develop more fully in his later comic materpieces. The characters, however, are clearly seen though the eyes of a child, and need to be presented with a degree of simplicity to succeed.   

Oliver Kuusik as the none too bright Don Polidoro caught this mood exactly – retreating to the comfort of his toys when upset - as well as showing off a very polished tenor voice.         Don Cassandro, the pompous elder brother was well played by David Stout, in fine voice and with his comedy nicely judged - snipping off the heads from a bed of roses in a fit pique – larger than life but never slipping into buffoonery, as after all he wins Rosina's affection.      Joana Seara, as the plot-mistress Ninetta , gave a sparkling performance full of vivacity.     The remainder of the cast sang agreeably and looked classy in their period costumes, but somehow missed the lightness of touch that was needed.  

The direction and rehearsal of the recitatives was strikingly good, they never became boring, nor was the stage business overdone.   From the pit Nicholas Kok kept proceedings well under control and the orchestra played to a professional standard.  

© Serena Fenwick

Second Cast 12 November:
This production seemed to be well run-in at this fourth and final performance by the second cast, with excellent team work and everyone taking their solo opportunities. Lenia Safiropoulos was under a little vocal strain as Rosina, the mock-simple bait at the heart of the plot constructed by the clever maid, Joanna Seara again eye and ear catching throughout. I look forward to seeing Lenia again in the GSMD Falstaff, and also Genevieve King, who has the most distinctive and memorable rich low mezzo at her disposal and will make a fine Mistress Quickly in that same production before, no doubt, essaying Rossini's mezzo heroines in due course.
Peter Grahame Woolf

See also Alexa Woolf's review of a previous production of La finta semplice by The Classical Opera Company at Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House in 2000