Reviews | La Finta Giardiniera at Santa Fe Opera
Santa Fe Opera opened its annual offering of Mozart opera over the weekend; this year a new production of La Finta Giardiniera takes audiences on a musically rich journey by way of a slightly shortened “Náměšt” version. Led by conductor Harry Bicket and staging director Tim Albery, Susanna Phillips (Arminda) was joined on stage by fellow cast members Heidi Stober (Sandrina), Laura Tatulescu (Serpetta), Cecelia Hall (Ramiro), William Burden (Podesta), Joel Prieto (Count Belfiore), and Joshua Hopkins (Nardo). Read more about La Finta Giardiniera in the reviews below!
“Tim Albery, who has directed this opera on at least two previous occasions, coordinated the efforts of set designer Hildegard Bechtler, costume designer Jon Morrell and lighting designer Thomas C. Hase into a comfortable whole with appealing period flair, filled with rococo chairs, fake marigolds, and costumes that ranged from simple black frocks (for the servants, or presumed servants) to elegant silk outfits lavishly embellished with floral motifs (for the nobles). The best-dressed members of the cast were also the most vocally commanding. Soprano Susanna Phillips brought her accustomed sonic opulence and elegant phrasing to the role of Arminda, an upwardly mobile young lady who, like everyone else, is caught up in the gears of romantic misalliances; and tenor William Burden displayed his much appreciated combination of sweet tone and clear projection in portraying her uncle, the pompous Mayor. These were authoritative performances. Some of the other singers sounded challenged by the very extended roulades Mozart assigned them. Let us remember that most of these singers do not normally exercise their diaphragms at 7,000 feet above sea level.”
(James M. Keller, The New Mexican, July 2015)
“This is the young Mozart well on his way to writing his great operas, particularly “Le Nozze di Figaro” and “Cosi Fan Tutte,” several of whose leading characters pop up here in embryonic form. Each singer gets to display his or her vocal stuff in arias and ensembles that blithely explode the rigid conventions of the period and genre.
The sterling cast boasts several singers with prominent Lyric Opera of Chicago pedigrees. Soprano Susanna Phillips draws big laughs and spins yard upon yard of silken coloratura as the haughty Arminda, who sets her cap for a handsome count, the disguised Belfiore (the personable, bright-voiced Spanish tenor Joel Prieto), but has to settle for a knight, Ramiro (mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall, floating the undulating lines of her two-dimensional trouser part.)”
(John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, August 2015)
“Some of the arias are brilliant, and the singers carried them off with brio. Tenor William Burden’s attention to phrasing made the Podestà (the Mayor) the comic center of the opera; when he invoked all the instruments of the orchestra to declare his love to Sandrina, a marchioness disguised as his gardener, you hung on every note. Soprano Susanna Phillips brought a demented, bad-tempered brilliance to the rage of his jilted—and jilting—niece Arminda, and Joshua Hopkins displayed a velvety baritone and a fine sense of humor as Nardo, Sandrina’s servant. Heidi Stober was an affecting Sandrina; Laura Tatulescu, a snarky Serpetta (the Podestà’s housekeeper and former love). Joel Prieto was dashing and confused as Belfiore, who is torn between Sandrina and Arminda, and Cecelia Hall brought an ardent despair to the trouser role of Ramiro. Half the fun was spotting who these characters would become in later Mozart operas—you can see Despina in Serpetta, for one; the other half wasHarry Bicket’s joyous, buoyant conducting, especially in the kaleidoscopic Act I finale.”
(Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal, August 2015)
“In La Finta Giardiniera we recognize the opera buffa characters of the genre: the worldly and cynical female servant; the blustering official who, instead of leading, spouts pompous phrases, etc. We find the critique, but also confirmation, of the class system—the wise female servant abandons her romantic interest in her noble employer and ultimately marries within her class. There is also parody of the opera seria genre: the ferocious aria of revenge, compellingly sung by Arminda (Susanna Phillips) to her fiancé, is over the top: he hasn’t done anything wrong (to her), but she is telling him what she will do if he does. Arminda’s exaggerated pannier bustles and elaborate blonde coiffure were suitably amusing, and Phillips is a brilliant comic actress as well as a skilled singer.
The problem with the plot involves characters 2 and 3. Sandrina (soprano Heidi Stober) is the “fake gardener girl”, a noblewoman who has taken the identity of a servant in order to search for her beloved, Count Belfiore (Joel Prieto), who abandoned her a year before. And this is the difficulty. If Belfiore had thrown his drink in her face and walked out, we might be able to accept Sandrina (real name Violante) still being in love with Belfiore (perhaps after agreeing to anger management therapy). But what he did was stab her and leave her for dead. And still she loves him. The absurdity is such that the role of Sandrina/Violante ought to be played with comic exaggeration.
(Liane Curtis, The Boston Intelligencer, August 2015)
“Mr. Prieto’s comic touch and flexible lyric tenor voice combine to transform Mozart’s would-be murderer into an ultimately hapless lover we can forgive in the end, which is a key to the story’s resolution.
Susanna Phillips’ Arminda is precisely the holy terror called for in the libretto. Mozart gives her character a number of swashbuckling solo turns as well that serve to burnish the initial impression. Ms. Phillips’ imperious soprano voice takes full advantage of each opportunity, driving the production forward with palpable energy every time she appears on stage.
Speaking of imperious, Laura Tatulescu’s sharp-tongued Serpetta gives Arminda a run for her money in the nastiness department. Serpetta’s continuously snarky vocal one liners, as delivered by Ms. Tatulescu, give this production an additional comic lift, and she makes the most her brief solo opportunities.”
(Terry Ponick, Communities Digital News, August 2015)
“A quartet of SFO favorites return for this production. Heidi Stober sings Sandrina, the Marchioness Violante in disguise, along with William Burden as the Podesta and Joshua Hopkins is Nardo the servant of the Marchioness.
Susanna Phillips, who has sung a variety of Mozart roles at SFO over the past few years, gives a riotous comic portrayal of the Arminda, the haughty, spoiled niece of the Podesta. Her “I long to punish you” love/hate aria with its hilarious emotional oscillations is a highlight. Along with her bright, full soprano, Phillips’ mastery at playing the scorned woman out for vengeance is second to none.
Nardo, after having not much to sing in the first act, is then given the most famous aria of the work, “Der verliebte Italiener” (An Italian lover would say). Hopkins lends his powerfully resonant baritone to this attempt at wooing the housekeeper Serpetta (Laura Tatulescu) by demonstrating a versatility in foreign languages (including English!).
(D.S. Crafts, The Albuquerque Journal, August 2015)