I don’t think I’m ever going to love Mozart’s La finta giardiniera. It has some pleasing music, though oddly the two principal characters don’t get much of it, but the plot is ridiculous and it really outstays its welcome. That said, Michael Patrick Albano’s production for UoT Opera in the MacMillan Theatre at least makes the complexity clear. We never lose sight of who is who; even if the other characters do, and what logic there is in the plot comes through clearly enough. Albano sets it entirely realistically in 18th century dress with set elements efficiently dropped in from the fly loft or carried around by a small band of liveried servants. There’s a fair bit of “park and bark” but then there’s a lot of prosy explaining going on.
I think the best performance of this show comes from tenor River Guard as the hapless mayor; Don Anchise. He has a pleasant light tenor voice and made the most of the comic opportunities of the role. Saige Carlson flounces around convincingly enough as Serpetta too. Alex Halliday as Roberto/Nardo makes the most of his comic opportunities too; especially with his multilingual wooing of Serpetta. Midori Marsh’s Arminda navigates the odd changing moods of her character well and exploits its potential for irony. And there’s the thing. This production, and perhaps this is always the case with this opera, comes to life when it’s being funny and becomes a bit of a snooze when it’s not.
That makes it pretty hard for the “serious” characters to make much of an impression. Tatiana Stanishich sings and acts perfectly well as Sandrina/Violante but there’s not much to engage the audience, bar perhaps the “mad scene”; curiously redolent of the last act of Verdi’s Falstaff. The same could be said of Jamie Groote’s Ramiro and Matthew Cairns’ Belfiore, with the addition that the latter seemed to be reigning back a voice that’s perhaps a bit large for the part. So, the company’s most highly rated singers don’t really get much chance to shine.
The UoT orchestra sounded just fine and Russell Braun managed to keep pit and stage together while making everything sound appropriately Mozartian.
So there you have it. It’s a clean, efficient production of an uneven Mozart opera where the singers make the most out of the comedy but can’t make the silly, dull bits come to life. There are three more performances; tonight and tomorrow at 7.30pm and Sunday at 2.30pm. As ever with UoT opera there are cast changes but not the complete swapping out we sometimes see.
Photo credits: Richard Lu.