The prim­rose path: La finta giar­diniera

Pasatiempo - - JENNIFER GOES -

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.

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