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Mozart – La finta giardiniera


Don Anchise (Podesta) – John McMunn

Violante/Sandrina – Sarah-Jane Brandon

Belfiore – Alistair Digges

Arminda – Monica Bancos

Ramiro – Ruby Hughes

Serpetta – Suzanne Shakespeare

Nardo – Aaron McAuley


conducted by Michael Rosewall

Royal College of Music, London 5 December 2008


La finta giadiniera has been described as “moderately amusing and immoderately long”.  The RCM has bravely undertaken a production, directed by Jean-Claude Auvray, that provides an amusing evening’s entertainment, thanks to a number of judicious cuts.  No attempt was made to update the action which was firmly rooted in the eighteenth century.  (Back to wigs and high heels – and that was just the men!)


One way of approaching the stylised drama is to imagine it as a soap opera, with a letter triggering the action rather than an email.  The characters are stereotypes but Mozart works his magic in giving them extra dimension.  One of the most interesting roles is that of Don Anchise, the pompous mayor, sung by John McMunn, who invests it with some dignity and invites our sympathy for an only too human craving for affection.  He alone stands apart at the finale whilst the others pair off.


The first act ends in confusion, while the following two detail the working out of the plot and eventual resignation to their fates of everyone except the mayor.  Sarah-Jane Brandon as the disguised Marchesa displayed a pure liquid soprano in keeping with her graceful and resourceful nature as suggested by her music.  As Anchise’s niece, Arminda, the Rumanian soprano Monica Bancos revealed a dramatic presence and vocal splendour to match.  In one of the many pointers to later operas, she indulges in a Donna Anna style fit of fury and passion, telling her lover she wishes she could tear his heart out. 


In contrast, the insolent maid Serpetta, played with great vivacity by Suzanne Shakepeare, observes the tantrums of the others with detachment until she, in turn, falls for the burly Nardo, a hearty soul as played by Aaron McAuley.  This pair foreshadows the more sympathetic Masetto and Zerlina, astute and rebellious underlings never over-awed by their masters. 


A flavour of Don Giovanni’s graveyard scene is evident during the forest scene where Sandrina is being followed by the others – a dark and stormy orchestral accompaniment.  A classic “look behind you” situation preceding the descent of Sandrina and Belfiore into madness.  The latter was sung by Alistair Digges whose agile tenor coped manfully with the demands made upon it during his more manic episodes.


Ruby Hughes, as the lover Ramiro dumped by Arminda but triumphantly re-united in the last scene, made the most of this rather ungrateful part.


The various intrigues and misunderstandings were held together by the exertions of the RCM Opera Orchestra under its versatile conductor Michael Rosewall who uncovered the beauties hidden in the eighteen year old composer’s score. 


We take for granted the accomplishment of the Da Ponte operas but acquaintance with Mozart’s youthful years makes one realise how much hard work went into this period of his “apprenticeship”. As a source of inspiration and an encouragement to all embryo composers and students of the lyric art, Mozart remains unsurpassed.


Stuart Jenkins


See Musical Pointers at the Royal Academy's La finta giadiniera 2005 {Editor]