La finta giardiniera
After every aria there was always a tremendous din of clapping and
cries of viva maestro”, wrote the 18-year-old Mozart happily to his mother
in Salzburg following the premiere of La finta giardiniera. He had
been commissioned to write a comic opera for the Munich carnival
and had fulfilled it in masterful fashion. Despite this initial success, the
original Italian version disappeared from the stage. Until far into the
20th century only reworkings were performed that misrepresented the
original. It has now been established that in this early work, ostensibly
a lightweight rococo comedy, the seeds of all of Mozart’s dramatic mastery
are to be found.
In a fit of raging jealousy, Count Belfiore has tried to stab his lover Marchioness
Violante to death. He does not know that she survived the attack
and is now living with Don Anchise, the Podestà (mayor) of Lagonero, under
the name of Sandrina and disguised as a gardener. The Podestà immediately
falls in love with the beautiful gardener, while his maid Serpetta has
set her cap at him. Behind Serpetta, Sandrina’s cousin Nardo trots disconsolately.
A further inhabitant of the house is Cavalier Ramiro. He has lost
out in his pursuit of Arminda, the Podestà’s niece, to a count and is now
nursing his lovesickness here in the countryside. Everything is now ready for
Arminda’s wedding; the happy couple arrive – and the groom is Belfiore!
When he sees Sandrina he thinks he recognises her as the lady he murdered.
He, Sandrina and the emotional fabric in the mansion all fall apart at the
seams, and madness ensues. In the end everyone, except the Podestà, has a
partner, even if it is not always the one he or she originally wanted.
An attempted murder that only two people know to have failed sets
events in motion. The murderer and his victim must be reconciled with
each other. This is a mere trifle; first the pair of them have to go mad in
the woods in order to make a new start, and though the wishes of the
other characters are granted the result is completely different from what
they had hoped for. In this early work, Mozart has already developed a
distinctive identity for his musical theatre: he took the emotional distress
of all his characters seriously and, as if incidentally, set new standards
for musical comedy.