They had the decorators in to spruce up the garden, a lick of paint here, a repair to a broken tulip there, fixing the half pomegranate sofa and doing other odd jobs that needed seeing to. But this was no ordinary garden, this was a oversize garden with a house-size Delft Blue vase, holding dozens of giant, completely realistic artificial flowers. Half a giant fig, with its sexual connotations, lay in the shape of a heart, centre stage. A huge knife served as a love seat and see-saw.
This presentation of La Finta Giardiniera was anything but conventional or predictable. The production, directed by Anja Kühnhold and designed by Anna-Sophia Blersch, had been imported lock, stock and barrel from the Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe so, considering this was actually a student performance, it was very lavish.
The title of Mozart’s very first opera does not translate very well but essentially it means the Fake/False/Pretend (female) Gardener. This imposter is Sandrina, on the run and in disguise because she has just survived a knife attack by her former lover Count Belfiore. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound like the stuff of a comic opera. But all this has taken place beforehand and we first meet Sandrina supervising the paint splattered workmen retouching the fake/false/pretend garden. The plot then all becomes a bit complicated with three pairs of lovers trying to get matched up to the right partner.
This was a production by Dutch National Opera Academy in collaboration with Conservatorium van Amsterdam and The Royal Conservatoire of The Hague. So, essentially a student performance, but you’d certainly never know it. The seven singers sang and acted brilliantly and it was nice to see an opera where leaps of imagination were not required to believe that an overweight, fifty-year-old tenor was in fact a student prince. This company was young and fit and brought a great deal of energy, enthusiasm and joy to the show. It would be unfair to mention names as they were all so good and also because some of the parts will be performed in rotation with other singers.
The performance took place in the concert hall of the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague on the fourth floor of the Amare. This is a fine room with good sight-lines and comfy seats – much more comfortable than those in the Dance Theatre downstairs, but it was not designed to mount productions like this. Consequently, it was a bit of a squeeze with a reduced Residentie Orkest under the enthusiastic baton of young English conductor Chloe Rooke, packed like musical sardines into a small compound stage-right of the flat playing area with the large set taking up the other side. It was a bit untidy at times but this did not distract from the quality of the performances. On the plus side, they did make full use of the room with singers up on the balcony and wandering up and down the stairs beside the audience. Oh, and I didn’t mention the giant insects. There were huge slugs and snails following the singers on the balcony and a wonderful fat caterpillar that lugubriously made its way across the stage – and there can’t be many opera singers that have been upstaged by a two meter butterfly occasionally flapping its wings above their heads.
All things considered this was fine production, beautifully performed by seven talented singers who were all totally believable as the characters they played. I’m sure they all have glittering careers in front of them. Michael Hasted 29th June 2023