Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
The Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra returns to the Marlowe Theatre, this time for a spectacular performance of La Finta Giardiniera, directed by Frederic Wake-Walker.
Having written it at the tender age of 18, La Finta Giardiniera is not the most adventurous or artistic of Mozart’s operas; but it definitely encompasses the wit and cheekiness of a teenage boy, making it one of his most enjoyable.
The plot is initially confusing with its opening murder scene being acted alongside an upbeat, playful score, while the who’s who and who loves who is difficult to keep track of for the best part of the first act.
However things eventually fall into place and the audience is taken on a ride of love, misery, humour and outright destruction.
Rosa Feola is dramatic and convincing as Sandrina/Violante, with a voice of silk and an air of grace. She is haunting and heartbreaking in Act One but shows her versatility when she becomes fun-loving and wild by Act Two.
Enea Scala matches her without effort as Count Belfiore, and his ability to hold a note for almost a minute without stumbling is mesmerising. Unfortunately, despite his good looks and heroic charm, it is difficult to like the man after stabbing his beloved during the show’s opening.
Timothy Robinson’s Podesta is the perfect combination of loving and cringe-worthy, causing laughs all round, even when his trousers are not round his ankles. Niece Arminda, played by Eleonore Marguerre, is flamboyant and irritating yet still amiable.
As the only female mezzo-soprano castrato, Hannah Hipp is hugely talented, playing scorned lover, Ramiro. Her bitterness and sinister apparel make her seem frightening at first but her revealing vulnerability prompts the audience’s pity over malice.
It is Eliana Pretorian and Mattia Olivieri as Serpetta and Nardo/Roberto that make La Finta Giardiniera so entertaining with their comical expressions and timing. The couple are equally quick on their feet and so wonderfully hilarious it is hard not to think that they belong together.
The production is filled with colour and light, with a grandiose backdrop making the stage come to life. Big wigs and ball gowns are the staple of every scene but of course it is the music that brings everything together and it is played with no fault, oozing energy into the room.
The libretto, by Giuseppe Petrosellini (though his authorship is still under debate) is often baffling and the characters are a peculiar bunch, but they are charming and immensely likeable. Each performer is a star on their own but win everyone over best as an excellent septet.
While the story could be deemed flat at times, Frederic Wake-Walker and his cast revive this rarely-performed opera, making it modern, engaging and exciting.