The primrose path: La finta giardiniera
Santa Fe Opera has produced nine Mozart operas in the course of its 59 seasons, but La finta giardiniera (The Feigned Gardeness) has been a holdout. It finally made its bow in a handsome production that was sensitively cast and consistently well-sung.
Even by operatic standards, the story is exhausting to follow. Certainly audiences can and do embrace stage plots that are elaborately convoluted; think of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, which prefigures the flavor of this opera. The problem with the complications of La finta giardiniera is not so much their quantity as their quality. Probably viewers are best advised to simply accept the arbitrariness of the scenario’s situations and take them for what they’re worth, scene by scene.
The music is lightweight and lovely, the product of an eighteen-yearold composer who was on the way to greater things. The company’s chief conductor, Harry Bicket, decided to use the “Námeˇ št’ ” version of the score, which enriches the orchestral forces and effects quite a few cuts. Surely it’s for the best. I can’t imagine that anyone left feeling shortchanged by the amount of music they had heard. He conducted a lively reading that came in just over three hours, counting one intermission.
Tim Albery coordinated the efforts of set designer Hildegard Bechtler, costume designer Jon Morrell, and lighting designer Thomas C. Hase into a comfortable whole with appealing period flair. The best-dressed members of the cast were also the most vocally commanding. Soprano Susanna Phillips brought her accustomed sonic opulence and elegant phrasing to the role of Arminda; and tenor William Burden displayed his much-appreciated combination of sweet tone and clear projection in portraying her uncle, the pompous Mayor. These were authoritative performances. Some of the other singers sounded challenged by the very extended roulades Mozart assigned them. Most of them, we should recall, do not normally exercise their diaphragms at 7,000 feet above sea level.
Tenor Joel Prieto (as Count Belfiore) and baritone Joshua Hopkins (as Nardo) both sang with lovely tone and musical intelligence, and they integrated their music-making into appealing and amusing stage presences. As the doleful knight Ramiro, soprano Cecelia Hall projected a credible male demeanor. Soprano Laura Tatulescu portrayed the Mayor’s housekeeper Serpetta with richly modulated tone and clear rhythmic articulation. I experienced her characterization as more embittered than wily and I might have preferred the latter. As it was, her stage personality (like her costuming) overlapped considerably with that of soprano Heidi Stober, as the Marchioness Violante (disguised as Sandrina, the feigned gardeness), who spent most of the opera overcome with emotional distress.
Audiences should go to La finta giardiniera expecting abundant musical pleasures without anticipating anything life-changing.
Additional performances of “La finta giardiniera” take place at 8 p.m. on Aug. 7, 13, and Aug. 21.