La finta giardiniera with tube prelude (RCM, 30 November 2016)
A few months ago Leander alerted me the Royal College of Music was staging La finta giardiniera and you bet I couldn’t say no to early Mozart. Then everyone got busy and come the day of the show I was on my own with a wildly unreliable (at the time) Piccadilly Line.
Don Anchise (Podestà/Mayor of Lagonero): Thomas Erlank
Marchioness Violante Onesti “Sandrina” (the fake gardener): Carly Owen
Arminda (Don Anchise’s gold digging niece): Elizabeth Reeves
Contino Belfiore (Violante’s abusive ex, now engaged to Arminda): Thobela Ntshanyana
Cavaliere Ramiro (Arminda’s mercilessly rejected, continuously moaning ex): Kamilla Dunstan
Serpetta (Don Anchise’s servant, looking to marry him): Harriet Eyley
Roberto “Nardo” (Violante’s servant, also faking it as a gardener, interested in Serpetta): Kieran Rayner
Conductor: Michael Rosewell
Director: Harry Fehr
(I copied the cast listing from the informative Opera Today’s review of the performance on 3 December; judging by the pictures it looks very similar; if I am wrong in any way I apologise; the RCM site doesn’t provide a cast)
There doesn’t seem to be much getting between me and my Mozart. I will, for a while at least, associate the piercing strings from the ‘giardiniera overture with crushing every single toe unfortunate enough to find itself between me and my augellin.
For your convenience I marked the two sides of this adventure (scroll all the way down to ‘giardiniera) so you don’t have to read about the tube madness if you don’t care.
Winter Mozart Mad Dash
This time I had the questionable honour of being the person who made an entire row get up. As soon as I saw that lady – smack dab in the middle of the row – carefully fold her cardie I knew she was of the this is the way things ought to be done school of thought. Sure enough, she wouldn’t stand for tomfoolery when I asked to be allowed to pass, lecturing me there are no more free seats this way (for people wearing pirate hoodies). I didn’t back down either but the lights did and somebody I had already passed physically pushed me foreward (or, well, sideways).
Normally that would annoy me but at that moment I wisely chose my battles, namely I stumbled without remorse all over the rest of the old ladies with bad ankles (the entire row had probably said goodbye to sweet 65 in the early ’00s). They were most likely black and blue the next day and lamented, over morning coffee, youth today, no respect, no time keeping and no dress sense. Luckily good English manners meant no further reprimands. On the other hand, ladies, count yourselves lucky my dress sense included light weight trainers instead of high heels.
Well, dear old ladies (fastidious or kindly), blame whatever was going on with the Piccadilly line. TFL advised me to take Victoria to Green Park and retake Piccadilly from there but, alas, that was to be a mistake. We made good time bypassing King’s Cross due to whatever had happened there earlier but you should’ve seen my face at Green Park when the Cerberus there snapped the Piccadilly tunnel metal gate closed right in front of me. Munch’s Scream had nothing on me.
It was 6:33pm and the opera started at 7pm. We waited there for 8 excrutiating minutes. Behind me was an American with the nasal + high pitched type voice talking at a leisurely pace about her trip to Venice (so boring! apparently) whilst I was agonising over why the bloody hell Se l’augellin sen fugge had to be the first aria in the whole damn opera. If I don’t make it in time for it, what’s the point???? (overdramatic, me? Perish the thought). Then again, Dolce d’amor compagna, said the sensible side of my brain. If they don’t cut it. They do it often enough. Why let optimism gain the upper hand?! Life is suffering and midweek public transport torment etc. At that point I only persevered because turning back was more hassle than continuing.
We were let through before I could turn around to glare pointedly at the sinus challenged Venice disser. This time I only had to hop over a small child. The train pulled away as I arrived. Of course. Then more people flooded the place but I managed to squeeze into a seat (more ruthlessness) only for the train to be held there momentarily. 6:43pm. Only three stops from Green Park which means no longer than 6min provided the train makes an effort to move from point A to point B. At the next stop we were held momentarily again whilst I seethed how long do I need to cover that bloody Museums tunnel? They said the reason for severe delays was them fixing tube cars, not digging new tunnels. Though I have a sneaky suspicion it’s neither, rather it’s stopping trains momentarily for no particular reason (if they are fixing trains it means there are less trains, so no need to regulate the traffic, eh).
We made it to South Ken by 6:53pm. Another child, another jump, mad dash up the stairs and down the Museums tunnel. It seems an interminable tunnel but it actually only takes 3min to cover if you (well, I; you might be in better shape) mix sprinting and furious walking and factor in tourists stopping in dazed poses in the most inconvenient places. Shall we get out here? Oh, wouldn’t be fun? Let’s explore a little! Look, a Lamborghini. Yes, I spotted another one but who had time to snap pictures? That damn escaping augellin wasn’t waiting, was it?
Once you’re out the tunnel there is more walking (London scoffs at shortcuts) – past the Scientology temple and the Science Museum (facing each other!), then left past the imposing Royal College of Music itself with the Royal Albert Hall on your right and, at long last, the modest door of the Britten Hall. Deserted.
OMG, it’s started! and for a moment I wasn’t sure I was in the right place (were these lockers here before?). Ok, not quite started but I was the last person to arrive and the orchestra had finished tuning. I’m usually cutting it close but haven’t been this late since that time at L’Ormindo when I somehow ended up on the wrong side of the Thames in pouring rain and my main concern was getting out of the rain rather than making it to the opera. That had been tremendous fun, because the usher, looking like a Phantom of the Opera drop-out, closed the gate dramatically behind me then rushed up the stairs along with me. Stewing in squelchy boots for the rest of the show was a different thing…
This chap waves me in, the
cute kind and efficient usher smiles until she notices my seat number. It’s somewhere there, actually, she points to the other side of the auditorium. A beat as I scan her face rather than the full rows of seats separating me from my cleverly chosen spot. Do you mean I have to disturb the entire row? Gentle smile: pretty much. Well, if she doesn’t offer to keep me with her until a suitable break occurs then I have to, don’t I?
The good news is I was in my seat before the singing started and no important arias were cut. The suited chap in the next seat glared at me but he left at the interval – good, because he was taking too much space and barely clapped. Sadly he didn’t leave his progamme behind so it took me until now (thank you, Opera Today) to figure out who sang.
The production is of the quietly modern type (no flesh eating plants or plastic bag headdresses, although the madcap act II finale happens in an impressively rendered boiler room to which Arminda has cut the power). We spend most of the time in Arminda and Belfiore’s wedding tent, which gives the singers the opportunity to fiddle around with cutlery, drinks and various boxes; most of the fiddling felt soap opera natural.
Generally speaking, comedies can be easily updated and ‘giardiniera fares as well as any. It’s about a bunch of young people looking to get hitched, hopefully to the right person (whatever right means for each of them). But it wouldn’t be a comedy if things were so simple.
Violante/Sandrina (here a mysteriously disappeared NYC heiress) and Roberto/Nardo are travelling incognito and have – more or less accidentally – infiltrated Belfiore and Arminda’s wedding by pretending to be working for a Long Island Catering company (in her green apron she’d be very much at home at Starbucks).
Don Anchise, here dressed like a Long Island JR Ewing, who has organised his niece’s wedding party, has noticed the self effacing “Sandrina” and is cheerfully flirting with her. She – still in love with her abusive ex – is not interested. Even so, Serpetta (Don Anchise’s young and feisty housemaid) feels she is competition. Serpetta is of course aware of “Nardo”‘s interest in her and gladly flirts with him – for fun.
Bolshy Arminda can’t believe her luck having landed (probably more like stalked, jumped upon and secured with iron claws) a dashing, rich Count in Belfiore. Her ex (socially inferior to Belfiore) Ramiro (unbeknownst to either party, a close friend of her uncle’s) is one of the wedding guests, a rather morose one, still not over Arminda (we’re not sure why, she’s thoroughly unpleasant – but they are the opera seria characters and that is typically the relationship between lovers in that context). Reeves has the perfect attitude for the very ambitious (“I will climb over anything in order to get married”) Arminda. Her singing wasn’t bad, considering it’s a tricky role, with a lot of bombastic, elaborate phrases.
At the beginning of the opera Ramiro has just played tennis with Don Anchise, who is trying to cheer him and Sandrina up. Don Anchise does a pretty good job and so we (I!) get Se l’augellin sen fugge (not going to fall in love again) as a result. Dunstan, who was the Ariodante of the nice jaw earlier this year at RCM, has the handsome darkish tone usually associated with Ramiro and does rather well with the ‘augellin (still romantic under all that moodiness. You know I like a bit of self mockery here but I let her off the hook). Over the course of the night she was a bit underpowered if valliant in taking on the many decorations teenage Mozart has given Ramiro’s fairly elaborate arias.
Dramatically the biggest hurdle against a successful ‘giardiniera is the act II dream sequence (or whatever it is where Violante and Belfiore suddenly act mad; it’s one of those tacked on things in opera when the librettist is not sure how to solve the plot; or maybe it means they’re madly in love; they apparently didn’t know what to make of it even in Mozart’s time). Here we had Violante (still Sandrina to most) and Belfiore hang out and act kookoo in the wedding tent with a light fixture that projcts stars all over the walls. It worked well (cute, unforced all things considered) and ended when the light fixture was simply turned off. Thus it felt more like daydreaming/playing around than a randomly mad moment.
The typical Classical period comedy madcap scene is in this case usually staged in the garden at night where everybody makes out with the wrong (sometimes horribly so) partner. Here it was, as I said, done in the basement boiler room, left dark by Arminda once she’s tied “Sandrina” up to get her out of the way. It was funny enough and of course ended with Ramiro (the pompous voice of reason) restoring light and reality and a lot of shame to everyone involved.
I really enjoyed the concept, it felt fresh and unforced. We’re lucky to come across interesting concepts often here in London, even for student productions. The acting ranged from all right to the very funny Rayner as Nardo and Reeves as Arminda (Ms Prenup). Carly Owen in the title role had excellent recit skills, with a real feel for Italian phrasing. The best singing of the night – smooth and self assured – belonged to Erlank as Don Anchise. The orchestral side wasn’t earth shattering but nice enough and tempi were kept brisk.
Another good Mozart idea for students is, I think, Lo sposo deluso, as it’s got a lot of Mozartness to it and it’s short (and they could do something mad with the staging). Maybe coupled with Der Schauspieldirektor? (which I missed at Grimeborn this year). In any case, yay for silly Mozart!