Classical CD Reviews

MOZART: La finta giardiniera (complete opera) – Soloists/ Freiburg Baroque Orch./ René Jacobs – Harmonia mundi (3 CDs)

A new version of this Mozart opera and one of the top opera productions of the year!

Published on January 9, 2013

MOZART: La finta giardiniera (complete opera) – Soloists/ Freiburg Baroque Orch./ René Jacobs – Harmonia mundi (3 CDs)

MOZART: La finta giardiniera (complete opera) – Sophie Karthäuser (Sandrina)/ Jeremy Ovenden (Contino Belfiore)/ Alex Pinda (Arminda)/ Marie-Claude Chappuis (Cavaliere Ramiro)/ Nicolas Rivenq (Podestà)/ Sunhae Im (Serpetta)/ Michael Nagy (Roberto)/ Freiburg Baroque Orch./ René Jacobs – Harmonia mundi HMC 902126.28 (3 CDs), 3:04:00 *****:

Mozart’s The Phony Gardener (check out NPR’s Bruce Scott for an excellent summary and review of a Brussels production was written by a most precocious 18-year-old who had not had the opportunity to write an opera since the age of 15.)  Now freed from the set-piece constraints of opera seria and its internal manifestations of inner emotional states, this new opera buffa enabled him to expand his creative processes by dealing with situations where the music actually affected the progress of the play; he had to depict external action musically instead of dwelling on solely internal affairs.

The characters, revolving around current and former lovers, interact in a way that he had not dealt with before, and his handling of the action reflects perfectly his advanced sensibilities in relationship to the currently-evolved state of the genre. But as this is a play that alternates buffa elements with situations of great import, Mozart was also able to give his characters a lot of reflection and serious emotive contemplation that ranks with the best of what opera seria had become, including some rather significant advances in the form of aria.

But despite the highly advanced nature of the music and of the complexities and skillful management of the plot (he wrote to his mother about the long applause and bravos at the premiere) the work had only three Munich performances, and despite being translated into German and turned into a singspiel with spoken dialog, the piece would be the last opera buffa the composer attempted for 10 years, and the only known version of the piece until the 1970s. Only in the loyal Mozartian city of Prague, soon after the composer’s death, was a revival advertised as a “new” work finally put on—in Italian–but even here, there were some cuts and all of the orchestrations seem to have been greatly expanded, much more in accordance with what we know as Mozart’s late style. But here we encounter yet another Mozartian mystery: who indeed is responsible for this vastly superior reorchestration? Mozart himself? He had defended the work vigorously in his lifetime and was not amenable to letting the matter drop. But when or where would he have done it? Musicologists from the early twentieth century dismissed the idea of the Mozartian authorship, but later ones have been cautious about an absolute dismissal, pointing out the skill needed to create such a vivacious and colorful piece. Nevertheless there were people in Mozart’s circle capable of it, though as of now we can’t be sure.

But because of this richly-decorated score and the fullness of the score itself, René Jacobs decided that it was this Italian complete posthumous version that should be the subject of his attention for a new recording, and we can all be glad of it. Some judicial cuts have been accepted, but by and large the opera is complete in its revised form. His orchestra and singers prove wildly enthusiastic about this new production, and why shouldn’t they be? In this version the piece truly sounds like a discovery of a late Mozart opera, and the music will astonish those who thought the late canon of Mozart mastery was complete; even if we know it is the work of an eighteen year old, what a composer he was even then;  his musical mastery of the idiom and psychological mastery of the intricacies of the subject matter and his way of manipulating the characters betrays a man who is far advanced of his teens in his understanding of the human condition. Harmonia mundi has given Jacobs great sound in a rounded and reverberant location that emphasizes the vocal dexterity of the singers and the punchy, colorful musings of the orchestra. Definitely one of the top opera productions of the year!

—Steven Ritter

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