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La finta giardiniera (Glyndebourne Tour)

An early opera by the teenage Mozart is given an outstanding revival for the Autumn tour

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Elenore Marguerre (Arminda), Enea Scala (Belfiore), Eliana Pretorian (Serpetta) and Timothy Robinson (Don Anchise) in La finta giardiniera (Glyndebourne Tour)
© Richard Hubert Smith

There was plenty of enthusiastic coverage for La finta giardiniera when it opened in the main Glyndebourne Festival a few weeks ago, not least from my WhatsOnStage colleague Simon Thomas, so let's begin by concentrating on what's new for the autumn tour revival. That, in essence, is the musical side of things, about which I can offer nothing better than a lame ‘I couldn't fault it'.

On the opening weekend of a run that will eventually head out to Woking, Canterbury, Norwich, Milton Keynes and Plymouth, the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra played stylishly and distinctively on Baroque instruments, tempos and dynamics immaculately controlled by Christopher Moulds, in support of an ideally assorted septet of solo singers.

Rosa Feola has a voice you can't ignore: it is honey and cream with a kick of champagne, and she brings a magnum of star quality to the key role of Sandrina/Violante. We must hear more of this fabulous young Italian soprano. Enea Scala's hunky Belfiore matches her with ease; so likeable is he, indeed, we're tempted to overlook the fact that before the opera began (or, in Frederic Wake-Walker's production, during the overture) he had attacked Violante in a fit of rage and left her for dead. How nice of young Mozart to reconcile the dysfunctional couple in a happy operatic ending. Typical of an 18-year-old. Ah well, give him time.

'Wake-Walker cooks up a delicious soufflé and then pulls it apart'

Polish mezzo Hanna Hipp, who is already a familiar name on the UK opera circuit, contributes a thrillingly sung and touchingly acted trouser performance as the lovelorn Ramiro – characterised here as a proto-Goth given to self-harm. The statuesquely beautiful Elenore Marguerre is comically haughty and vocally delightful as his object of desire, Arminda; the always excellent Timothy Robinson presents a distinctly Goldonian mayor, Don Anchise, and Mattia Olivieri and Eliana Pretorian put in scene-stealing shifts as the servants Nardo and Serpetta. How Pretorian manages to maintain an impossible pose in perfect stillness for as long as she does at the start of act two defies belief.

Enea Scala as Belfiore and Rosa Feola as Sandrina in La finta giardiniera (Glyndebourne Tour)
© Richard Hubert Smith

If you've glanced at the photo above and thought it all looks a bit traditional, that is director Wake-Walker's point. He cooks up a delicious soufflé and then proceeds to pull it apart with sticky theatrical fingers. Everything onstage is fake (or ‘finta'); nothing is as it seems. It would be churlish to give too much away about his succession of climactic coups de théâtre, so let's just say that Antony McDonald's exquisite Rococo designs, iridescently lit by Lucy Carter, get an epic hammering when courtly pretence is ripped apart and the physical world collapses with it.

The last time I attended a live performance of this opera (at a European venue three or four years ago) it felt a bit like a penance; but here, so well played in a slightly cut version that nevertheless tops three hours, the time flew by in a blast of youthful energy. Frederic Wake-Walker has put down a marker here with a virtuoso display of flair and creativity. It'll be exciting to see how he caps it.