Mozart: La finta giardiniera

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Teldec Das Alte Werk
WORKS: La finta giardiniera
PERFORMER: Edita Gruberova, Charlotte Margiono, Monica Bacelli, Dawn Upshaw, Thomas Moser, Uwe Heilmann, Anton Scharinger; Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 9031 72309-2 DDD
As in Harnoncourt’s recording of Lucio Silla, the ‘home-made’ sound of his Concentus Musicus Wien comes as something of a shock to ears nurtured on the period-instrument bands of Pinnock, Gardiner or Norrington. And Harnoncourt’s sometimes eccentric, occasionally abrasive, but always dramatically alert way with Mozart’s prodigious, youthful dramma giocoso will not suit all Mozartian tastes. But it is so obviously preferable to all previously available recordings – two of them (one in the original Italian with recitatives, the other in German with spoken dialogue) issued last year as part of the Philips Mozart edition – that I must give it a warm welcome here.

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Recorded ‘live’ at concert performances in Vienna, it boasts a cast of three contrasting sopranos: Edita Gruberova as the noble Countess Violante, the impostor gardener of the title, Dawn Upshaw as the bright-as-a-button soubrette Serpetta, and Charlotte Margiono as the haughty, mock-heroic Arminda; another superb young Italian mezzo, Monica Bacelli, almost a Bartoli sound-alike in the castrato part of Ramiro. It also has two experienced Mozartian tenors: Uwe Heilmann golden-toned as the distrait Count Belfiore, Thomas Moser appropriately grey-voiced as the ageing, amorous Podesta; and an excellent young buffo baritone, Anton Scharinger as Violante’s faithful servant Roberto, disguised as the gardener Nardo.

But it is Nikolaus Harnoncourt, ultimately, who convinces me that this opera (written for Munich’s Cuvilliés-Theater in 1775 when Mozart was 19) deserves to join the standard repertory.

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If not every one of the arias rises above the lingua franca of Italian opera buffa in the 1770s, the finales, and particularly the second, in which the characters get lost in the wild forest – a sort of knot garden – and the romantic lovers go mad, are astonishing, prophetic of the miraculous finales to the three Da Ponte operas and The Magic Flute. Despite Harnoncourt’s characteristic stylistic oddities, no Mozartian will want to be without this fascinating set. Hugh Canning