Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Mozart - La Finta Giardiniera / Richard Croft Ann-Christine Biel Petteri Salomaa Stuart Kale Britt-Marie Aruhn Arnold Ostman Drottningholm Theatre|
Actors: Stuart Kale, Britt Marie Aruhn
Director: Thomas Olofsson
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama, Musicals & Performing Arts
Libretto by GIUSEPPE PETROSELLINIDon Anchise, Podestā di Lagonero: STUART KALE — La Marchesa Violante / Sandrina: BRITT-MARIE ARUHN — Il Contino Belfiore: RICHARD CROFT — Arminda: EVA PILAT — Il Cavalier Ramiro: ANNIKA SKOGLUN... more »
A marvelous opera from Mozart's youth
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 01/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Even a casual knowledge of operatic history enables one to list the seven operas that frame Mozart's "Golden Decade": 1781-1791. That same casual listener might have come across operas whose titles, exotic sounding names all, are described as products of Mozart's youth; rarely revived musty curiosities like those antiquarian oddities found in glass cases that were so popular in the 18th and 19th Centuries. This strange taxonomy contains names such as Mitridate Re di Ponto, Ascanio in Alba, Lucio Silla and La Finta Giardiniera. As "museum pieces", we rush past them like the museum was only the first stop on a High School field trip whose true objective was 2 front row seats on the 50 yard line at the Super Bowl, offered first-come-first-served. I, too, am guilty of ignoring these early Mozartean efforts. Like many opera aficionados, I envisioned some toy piano tinkle-music, mindless Rococo Muzak from a musical Fragonard in Pampers. This prejudice, shared by many, must change.
I played this recently released DVD of La Finta Giardiniera three times in sucession, nearly 8 hours stem to stern, because I could not believe what I was hearing. This was no 18th Century elevator music but a fully realized, dramatically mature and musically accomplished (and beautiful as only Mozart reveals the deeper meaning of that word) work of operatic art. It occurred to me that Mozart was a victim of his own supreme genius. That these adolescent works were guilty of not being Le Nozze di Figaro. But even Mozart wrote only one Figaro. From now on, each work should be judged on its own merits: intrinsic musical value and excellence in comparison to other composers of the era. La Finta is superior to any other composer's comic opera of the period (the ones we know about). As such, it merits inclusion into the standard repertoire. I credit this marvelous DVD for opening my eyes.
La Finta Giardiniera (The pretended gardener), was completed by December 1774 and was the 18 year old Mozart's first attempt at opera buffa other than two small childhood works. Having already composed several opera seria, he was unsure of his abilities in the realm of comedy. That insecurity may be the source of this work's most inspired moments, for there is nothing routine about the inexhaustible flow of melody that is its surface characteristic. What amazes is the psychological penetration revealed in the music, the hallmark of Mozart the mature dramatist. His ability to delineate personality, to probe psychological and emotional states of characters either singly or in ensembles, is present even at this early stage of his career. This singular ability makes Mozart the greatest natural dramatist after Shakespeare; its presence in this opera (though in an immature guise) and its general scarcity in the theatrical world is why La Finta Giardiniera deserves a place on the stage with greater regularity.
The opera premiered at the Redoutensaal, Munich on 13 January 1775; delayed for several weeks due to its demands on the performers. The libretto is by Giuseppe Petrosellini but the story makes little sense in its complexity and is best ignored. Mozart apparently did so, composing the music on-the-fly. Suffice it to say it involves love lost and regained, angry women, confused men, women playing men, mistaken identity, saucy maids, foolish old men, madness (real and feigned), assault with intent to murder and a parakeet.
Filmed in 1988 for Swedish television at the tiny 18th century Drottningholm Court Theatre and featuring its resident period instruments Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Arnold Ostman, it is hard to imagine a better, funnier, more expertly performed version of this opera. Other than Richard Croft who plays Il Contino Belfiore, the cast is unknown to me. Nevertheless, they are superb in every aspect of this production. The singing is wonderful, the acting likewise. Though uniformly excellent, I still must single out for praise Ann Christine Biel as the saucy maid Serpetta and Petteri Salomaa as Nardo. Their comic gifts shine. Also quite superb (and a dead ringer for actress Jennifer Connolly) playing Il Cavalier Ramiro is Annika Skoglund. Stuart Kale is Don Anchise and Britt-Marie Aruhn is La Marchesa Violante. Eva Pilat is Arminda. There is a lively intelligence about this production that makes it so entertaining.
The image on this disc is clear without any obvious video artifacts. It looks as if it were digitally remastered. The sound format on this disc is PCM stereo which is very clear and quite "live" sounding with great presence. The film is in color with a picture format of full screen 4:3. The region code is NTSC 0. Menu languages are German, French, English and Spanish. There are the usual 6 subtitle languages. The running time of this disc is 150 minutes. There are no extras other than excellent notes included in an informative 40 page booklet written in English, French and German.
I strongly recommend this thoroughly entertaining DVD. Anyone with even a moderate love for Mozart's operas will probably treasure this disc as much as I do. You may be surprised at the maturity of the 18 year old Mozart.
An Efferfescent Giardiniera!
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 01/26/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While the libretto is highly comical - sometimes hilariously over-the-moon, Mozart plunges into the depths of each character - developing them into far more than 18th century stereotypes: their motivations and reasons fully believable - even in this fantastically theatrical comedic opera.
The score is one of Mozart's technically most challenging offering great chunks of through-composed music linking one idea to another in unbroken chains in almost Wagnerian style. The young Mozart was clearly a genius, but an untempered one - throwing his entire arsenal of creativity into his first "mature" opera, a work of great musical difficulty. He delivered the work to Munich for a mid December premiere, but an additional 3 weeks of rehearsals were needed before it's January 13th premiere.
The jewel that is the 400 seat Drottningholm Palace Theatre still employs the original 1766 stage machinery - fully intact - (thunder and wave machines, flying chairs, etc.) often used in its productions, the orchestra plays original instruments, wears wigs and dresses in the time period, allowing presentations of as close to a total recreation of 18th century opera as we're likely to see anywhere these days.
Goran Jarvefelt creates a production that feels as if it traveled through time directly from Mozart to us. His use (as well as most of the productions I've seen from here) of the tiny Drottningholm stage is a textbook lesson in the creative use of limited space to its fullest possibilities. He moves us swiftly through courtyards, bed chambers, workrooms, parlours, a wild forest, and a garden/glade. This is managed by allowing every singer to begin their bravura arias in the proper locale, then dropping the curtain as the character continues on the apron while the carpenters and stagehands quickly strike and reset the stage, sometimes partially visible through a small hole in the curtain! The characters, more often than now, acknowledge the audience, sometimes bow, or as in the case of the Count and Violante, wave an enthusiastic good-bye at the delighted crowd. The ends of Acts I and II find the entire company before the curtain, each bowing in character, adding immeasurably to the charm and sense of good fun.
Though its comedic aspects are never diminished, Mozart takes the darker moments of the characters - and creates scenes that plum the depths of despair and madness as powerfully as if they'd been lifted from a more tragic opera seria. The balancing act between dark and light here is at a level comparable to, say, Don Giovanni. Here, we can find Mozart's passion for taking something that starts out like an aria, then morphs into a duet, then a quartet, then an ensemble employing all 7 roles of the opera. That he achieves this with the skill of someone far greater in years and experience than he, only adds to the "genius" factor. It's remarkable, really.
Richard Croft nut that I am, I was pleased to see the then almost impossibly youthful tenor garner the lion's share of applause (his bravura scene in Act II elicits the only chorus of bravos), but this is first and foremost, as with all of Mozart's great works, an ensemble piece, every character part of the puzzle and fully integrated into a brilliant whole.
Croft looks wonderfully silly as the foppish, spoiled young count, ridiculous wig and overdone make-up and all. Later he appears more "natural," but always a little "girly" or "fey" - which he works to his character's advantage. Whether hopping from chair-to-chair with ridiculous speed, doing sommersaults, jumping atop tables or crawling under beds, he's lean and lithe and comes across fully inside the head of this young man. His scenes of madness begin comically, but then reach a level of pathos that, while not actually heartbreaking (this is a comedy!) are infinitely touching. He dispatches his difficult music with great elasticity, though sometimes his quick vibrato develops a rapid bleat some will find unattractive, but for me, suits this type of role beautifully.
Britt-Marie Aruhn as the title role - disguised as "the Pretend Gardener" offers sheer delight and, like Croft, goes from silliness to tragic character in seamless fashion. Her final duet with Croft's Count offers some of the most difficult timing changes and both pull it off with style, grace and charm to spare.
Ann Christine Biel as the wily, coldhearted, eye-on-the-prize, saucy servant Serpetta tries at every turn to steal the show, commenting asides to the audience. She pulls off this calculating character with such perfect comic timing and stage business, whether serving coffee, ironing or spying on the goings on, you'll find your eye focusing on her nearly every scene. I cannot imagine this great archetypal character being performed with more aplomb or better comic timing than Ms. Biel offers here.
Annika Skoglund - at times bearing an uncanny resemblance to actress Julianna Margulies - is the heart-on-sleeve wearing Cavalier Ramiro, desperately pining away for the Count's flightly fiancee, Arminda. She looks "handsome" and sometimes is the most masculine acting character on stage! She has a warm, lovely sound that, with too much pressure, can get a bit of a shrillish edge, but that's not inappropriate given the character, and those moments are minimal - and I almost feel guilty mentioning them here, so fine is the rest of her performance.
As the Count's intended, Eva Pilat, with pink streaks through her powdered wig, starts like a house on fire and never lets up. Meeting her fiance for the first time on their supposed wedding day, the spoilt, pampered princess makes no bones about who will be running the show and what punishments she will dole to her future husband should he ever fail to live up to her "standards." She makes clear she "uses the stick" (and we see her attempt to do so later), and threatens physical violence often. Pilat soars effortlessly through her music and, as nasty as she can be, still allows the audience to fall in love with her.
Petteri Salomaa's face is priceless. Though painted a bit too white, his mugging looks of surprise, that handsome wide mouth circling into an "O" straight out of silent movies, the man is a comic gem. A resemblance to Ashton Kutcher will not go unnoticed. Like the rest of the cast, he is a fiercely physical comic actor and the colors in his voice at times make it seem like two completely different singers are employed (and as he plays a role "in disguise" this is a very good thing!).
The master of the house, Don Anchise - known as the "Podesta" tries to run this show - it is HIS house, after all, but all of his attempted machinations at controlling the chaos prove too much and the man who, at the beginning of this romp looked like a aging buffoon, comes to accept his fate - and that of all those he tried to cajole, control and convict, with enlightenment and panache. Stuart Kale, in his lemon-curd colored wig, simply owns this role - one of the great comic roles every tenor getting beyond the years of romantic hero would be lucky to get. Kale sinks his teeth into each moment, playing it with the abandon and style.
Arnold Ostman conducts the Drottningholm forces in an exciting, rhythmically tour de force that propels the action, lingering only long enough to allow you to catch your breath. In fact, one advantage the viewer has over the live audience is the ability to hit "pause" or rewind a minute to catch something that flew by you visually or aurally. Nonetheless, I would have LOVED to have been part of the house when this was filmed, as, from their response, it seems few people in the world were having more fun anywhere that day than were these folk."
drkhimxz | Freehold, NJ, USA | 07/17/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"My recent experience with the Mozart 22 video of this opera made me eager to listen when I saw that Kulture was distributing it (new on most store's DVD shelves). As one of the reviewers pointed out, the Mozart 22, which tends to modernize all its productions, decided, presumably because the title mentions a gardener, to make the set a Home Depot type of garden super-store. Certainly they did manage a lively presentation within its storage shelf interior, Nothing much left of a Mozart feel, but, no doubt, there are those who enjoyed the novelty of it, On the other hand, somewhat tongue in cheek, the Swedish company gave it an orchestra with vintage instruments, a set whose very cozy feel and mildly period look gave a sense of authenticity, and a cast that could sing well and, while performing the antics native to the libretto (and to the operatic type), give us the feel that we should not take too seriously what they were doing. No musicologist I, it is a relief to say that I have no idea where this score stands in Mozart's collected works nor how it should be rated in some scale of musical quality, I found it to be melodious throughout and a joy to hear."
Menotti's THE MEDIUM
Lone Star Lark | Houston, TX | 03/06/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I purchased this DVD solely as a reference for a production of THE MEDIUM that I am currently directing. My purpose was to have a good resource for scene sequence as i was not that familiar w/ this work. What a pleasant surprise to get excellent singing and acting to boot! My set design is very different in that I included another fully visible room in the main set (i.e., the set is a 2-room apartment) and a street scene so that the audience sees ALL of the action. T/fore, the set used in this DVD production was not helpful. But, I iterate, this production is excellent and I was so happy w/ re to the professional voices and acting!
CyFair College Opera Workshop"