La Finta Giardiniera


SAN FRANCISCO OPERA MEROLA PROGRAM (2012)

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photos courtesy of Kristen Loken

LA FINTA GIARDINIERA by W. A. Mozart
Conductor: Gary Wedow
Cast: J. Cherest, T. Lebow, J. Piccolino, C. Candebat, S. Mesko, G. Bintner, R. Sawvel
Production: N. Muni (scenery) U. Alcala (clothes), E. Watkins (lighting), M. Donari (hair/make-up)

“Mozart’s early opera “La Finta Giardiniera,” which got a first-rate performance Thursday night by the young artists of the Merola Opera Program, boasts some of the composer’s most ebullient and inventive music. If “La Finta Giardiniera” is not performed as often as it should be, that is surely because of the treacherous difficulty in finding the right tone for its central scenario…pulling for a woman who goes to great lengths to win back her murderous lover – that takes work.  In several productions of “Giardiniera” I’ve never seen the opera’s central dilemma resolved so simply or so persuasively.”
Joshua Kosman, The San Francisco Chronicle (August, 2012)

Drama certainly figured big in Nicholas Muni’s staging of this opera for Merola. Instead of providing a stock “bouffe” treatment in which everyone thinks a person is somebody else, Mozart confronts us with violent interactions among jealousy, lust, pride, and love. Muni did not waste any time in recognizing this departure from the “bouffe.”  If this is comedy, then it is in the dark style of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But unlike Shakespeare, this opera does not find closure in a happily-ever-after ending. The title character is, indeed, reconciled with her formerly jealous suitor; but this does not imply that either of them is happy. When we see her with her Count at the end, they are resigned to their reunion; but they are also determined to “make do” with the rather unpleasant cards that life has dealt them. In other words the plot has been drawn from life rather than from fairy tales.  Because the essence of human nature resides more in Mozart’s music than in the twists and turns of that plot, this is an opera that demands the highest order of technique in both acting and musicianship. All the members of the Merola cast met those demands with flying colors. Nevertheless, it is clear that Muni wanted us to focus on the principal couple. “
Stephen Smoliar, San Francisco Examiner  (August, 2012)

“Thursday’s opening performance of “La Finta” — composed when Mozart was 18 — showed that this strange and many-layered opera is finally about reconciliation: love wins out, it really does. Not every “La Finta” production demonstrates this so convincingly as does Merola’s in its final 40 minutes. Thursday, they were transformative — thrilling to experience, and a surprise. Directed by Nicholas Muni, the performance leapt into 3-D during ensemble numbers, which seemed to put the cast members at ease. Singing about love’s delights and disasters, the group relaxed into Mozart’s arms; much of the action — including the usual cases of mistaken identity — is absurd or convoluted. As for the celebration of a battered woman’s love for “her man” — what are we to make of this in the 21st century? Everything is out of whack in Lagonero. Perhaps that’s why Muni, doubling as designer of the sleekly minimal sets, places a central portion of the stage at a tipsy angle. This isn’t your everyday reality.”
Richard Scheinin, Mercury News  (August, 2012)

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