Mozart’s La finta giardiniera is pretty thin stuff. The libretto is dreadful. The fits of madness start before the opera gets going when Count Belfiore tries to murder his fiancée Marchioness Violante. She runs off and becomes a gardener aided by her man-servant Roberto. There’s another gardener, Sarpetta, who is being wooed by Roberto (alias Nardo) and Violante’s (now Sandrina) boss the mayor has a niece, Arminda, who now plans to marry Belfiore to the dismay of her former lover Ramiro. And along the way the mayor, Don Anchise, gets the hots for Sandrina. Throw in a whole lot of confusion about Sandrina/Violante’s identity (because she keeps claiming that she’s not Violante or is just pretending to be Violante depending who she is talking to) and it’s no wonder that everyone goes mad at least once. Frankly the audience has every right to as well. And there’s three hours of this. The music is OK. It’s Mozart at 18 and he’s writing to a formula most of the time. So we get workmanlike but predictable arias and ensembles that only occasionally hint at what is to come in the later operas.
David Lescot’s production for Opéra de Lille takes the silliness and runs with it. The characters, all dressed in white, inhabit a world of weird and often oversized garden plants. The acting tends to be histrionic, except perhaps for Sandrina/Violetta (Erin Morley) and Don Anchise (Carlo Allemanno) who somehow seem less nuts than the rest (at least until the mad scene in Act 3). Belfiore (Enea Scala) is played as an extremely self-regarding buffoon and Arminda (Marie-Adeline Henry) gets tight riding breeches and a whip, with which she threatens everyone while viciously decapitating sunflowers. Serpetta (Maria Savastano) and Nardo/Roberto (Nikolay Borchev) are played, reasonably enough, as the cute but crafty servants of the commedia. Marie-Claude Chappuis rounds things out in the adolescent lover trouser role of Ramiro. It’s all quite nice to look at with appropriately young singers in the lover roles, plenty of eye candy and playful sets. It’s still three hours of fluff but I think Lescot makes about as much of it as anyone reasonably could.
Musically it’s fine. None of the singers really stand out but they are all quite competent and well up to the music. The same can be said for Le concert d’Astrée and Emmanuelle Haïm in the pit. There’s just not a whole lot to get excited about. The technical aspects are also perfectly serviceable. Jean Pierre Loisil’s video direction is unobtrusive and it’s a good modern (2014) recording with a decent picture and clear sound in both formats (PCM stereo and Dolby 5.1). There are no extras on the disk and the booklet is limited to a, admittedly vital, synopsis. Subtitle options are English, French, Italian and German.
Perhaps unsurprisingly there aren’t a whole lot of versions of this work to choose from. The main competition would seem to be a 2006 Zurich recording on Blu-ray. Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts a rather starrier cast than the Lille ensemble in what looks, from trailers, to be a production that aims for rather more gravitas. Whether that’s a good thing I’m not sure.