Seduced by the fan-frenzy raised by Joel Rozen’s recent ecstatic, expletive-rich embrace of “the beautiful voice,” Renée Fleming makes her belated “Trove Thursday” debut as Sandrina in a rare early performance of Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera, a work being staged next week by Juilliard Opera.
An especially complicated dramma giocoso, it mixes genres uneasily with comic characters like Serpetta and Nardo interacting within the potentially lurid melodrama surrounding disguised noblewoman Violante (aka Sandrina) and her paramour Count Belfiore. The latter had previously stabbed (!) Violante who then fled disguising herself as a gardener.
The lovers re-encounter each other—he’s now attached to Arminda—and eventually reconcile but only after each goes “mad.” Perhaps the most noteworthy features of the score are the complex multi-movement finales which end the first two acts and look forward to those in Le Nozze di Figaro and Così fan Tutte..
I first came to the work via a 1972 recording of the German version (with spoken dialogue) Die Gärtnerin aus Liebe conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt which starred a particularly fine quartet of ladies: Helen Donath, Jessye Norman, Tatiana Troyanos and Ileana Cotrubas.
It might be wise to try to catch Finta at Juilliard next week as when the school presented it 10 years ago the production it like that recording featured three (future) American international stars in the cast—Erin Morley, Brenda Rae and Isabel Leonard.
This 1991 performance comes several months after Fleming’s unscheduled Met debut replacing an ill colleague as the Countess in Figaro. After the Finta she reappeared at the Met in what should have been the role of her first appearance: again as the Countess Almaviva but in the world premiere run of Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles.
I’ve always found Fleming at her best in Mozart and a baffling aspect of her opera career (and there have been more than a few) was her backing away from that repertoire. I suspect that she didn’t care to be typed as a “Schwarzkopf-type Mozart-Strauss” soprano. One of my biggest Met regrets was missing her reportedly exquisite Fiordiligi in 1996 as I was out of town during the run; I didn’t catch her Pamina either but there were just four and I don’t believe she ever sang the role again.
Donna Anna at the Met in 2000 seems to have been her final Mozart appearances. Tantalizing glimpses of what we’d been missing occurred when she partnered with Susan Graham or Joyce DiDonato at concerts around town for special-occasion Fiordiligi-Dorabella duets. Her last Countesses in 1998 were ravishing as was her “Porgi amor” at the Met gala just this spring celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the new house.
Someone (I can’t remember who, sorry) on this site has posted frequently of being a great fan of the elegant Dutch Mozart specialist Charlotte Margiono, and it’s valuable to hear her Arminda as there aren’t so many live souvenirs of her in complete roles. David Rendall was Ferrando in a Così that was my second-ever performance at the Met while his son (with mezzo Diana Montague.) Huw Montague Rendall is a promising baritone who will sing Nardo in this opera next spring in Winterthur under the auspices of the Zurich Opera.
Margiono and American mezzo Lani Poulson still perform occasionally, but other than Michele Pertusi the busiest singer in this cast is Kurt Streit who continues in great shape, both vocally and physically, as may be seen in a preview clip of this fall’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria in Hamburg. Not too many 58-year-old tenors portray their heroes shirtless; no wonder Sara Mingardo was so glad to have him back home!
Mozart: La finta giardiniera
Salle Pleyel, Paris
28 September 1991
Sandrina: Renée Fleming
Arminda: Charlotte Margiono
Serpetta: Catherine Dubosc
Ramiro: Lani Poulson
Belfiore: Kurt Streit
Podestà: David Rendall
Nardo: Michele Pertusi
Orchestre de Paris
Conductor: Louis Langrée
Finta can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.