Live from Aix-en-Provence: Day 4

Live from Aix-en-Provence: Day 4

This article is the fourth in a series on the 2012 Aix festival. Read the previous articles in our Culture section.

There could hardly be a better setting for Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera (The Pretend Gardener) that the Aix Festival’s outdoor theater in the gardens of the Domaine du Grand Saint-Jean, an old château estate a half hour outside of town. The opera is set in the garden of a small-town official’s home, so, like the seven characters in the musical farce onstage, the audience can watch the sun go down, and when Nardo sings of the starry night, there are real stars overhead.

La Finta Giardiniera, Mozart’s 7th opera, was first produced in 1775, when he was just past his 19th birthday. Written on commission for the Carnival celebrations in Munich, it’s full of youthful enthusiasm, overly long and jumbled with loopy plot twists that leave all traces of believability far behind. Fleeing from Count Belfiore, the jealous fiancé who tried to kill her, the Marquise Violante Ornesti and her servant Roberto, disguised as gardeners Sandrina and Nardo, have taken refuge working for the small-town official—the Podestà—Don Anchise; the Podestà falls in love with Sandrina/Violante, who still loves Belfiore, who—thinking her dead—is engaged to marry the Podestà’s niece Arminda, who has jilted Don Ramiro, while Roberto/Nardo pursues the serving girl Serpetta, who has set her cap for the Podestà.

The situation calls for some clever staging, and gets it here with economical means, including a mirrored floor that reflects the surrounding greenery and the sky, a banana-yellow garden hose put to ingenious uses (lasso, walkie-talkie, snake), and several dozen long-stemmed flower lights set on rocking saucers. Unfortunately, the more-or-less Mozartian costumes look as if they were grabbed at random from a local theatrical supply shop, and the overall production is a little on the amateurish side—possibly under-rehearsed, charming but not the professional quality expected from the Festival d’Aix, where, even here at the traditionally moderately priced Grand Saint-Jean, top seats are €140.

Making up for that, the music—with Andreas Spering conducting the Cercle de l’Harmonie orchestra from his own clavichord—wafts beautifully on the soft summer night, and the exceptionally good young singers give it their all, led by three strong and lovely sopranos: Canadian Layla Claire as the leading lady Violante/Sandrina, the Swiss Ana Maria Labin as the imperious Arminda and French Sabine Devieilhe as the spunky Serpetta. Canadian tenor Colin Balzer is the exalted and exasperated Podestà, American baritone John Chest the romantic Roberto/Nardo, and the German tenor Julian Prégardien the blissfully self-centered Belfiore.

This Finta is co-produced by the Aix Festival and the Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg, the Opéra de Toulon Provence Méditerranée and the Opéra de Rouen Haute-Normandie.

The 2012 Festival d’Aix-en-Provence continues with seven operas in repertory through July 27, along with a roster of concerts and recitals.

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  • Brian Spiby
    2012-07-17 03:42:12
    Brian Spiby
    One of the better offerings this year. Best company singing in all the operas I saw here. But not of an international standard which can justify such high ticket prices. Perhaps the production had improved since it's opening night when I saw it on July 15th. It's undoubtedly a magical setting. But oh dear who is going to grasp the operatic nettle and declare firmly that this early Mozart is immature and far too long. Clearly not the MD who claims to have cut 30" already.