Opera Neo Collaborates with Hungarian State Opera for Mozart’s ‘La finta giardiniera’ in Budapest

La finta giardiniera, a comic opera the 18-year-old Mozart composed as a raucous entertainment for Munich’s annual Carnival season, recounts three young couples’ rocky journey from infatuation to the edge of matrimonial bliss. Much later, a more mature Mozart working with the sophisticated librettist Lorenzo da Ponte would revisit this complex emotional landscape in their incomparable opera buffa Le nozze de Figaro.

Õznur Tülüoglu & Kyle White [photo (c.) Gary Payne Photography]

Friday at Budapest’s Eiffel Art Studios, the Hungarian State Opera in an extraordinary collaboration with San Diego’s Opera Neo, presented a musically rich, smartly staged production of La finta giardiniera. The concept of this production was developed by stage director András Almási-Tóth of the Hungarian State Opera in conjunction with Opera Neo artistic director Peter Kozma, who conducted the opera. The cast of seven singers was evenly divided between American and European vocalists, although I am aware that the number seven does not divide evenly!

Almási-Tóth’s concept of the production—at least in my interpretation—is that love is never a simple black-and-white proposition, and that lovers are constantly transferring their own needs and presuppositions onto their partners. So in the Eiffel Art Studios’ spacious black box theater—both figuratively and literally black—all of the characters were dressed in plain white costumes, designed by Richárd Márton, and the stage was adorned with three large white sculptures of sexually suggestive floral blossoms. Brandishing their readily available paint brushes, the characters constantly painted their mates—as well as the suggestive white sculptures—with wide brush strokes in various vivid colors.

Of course, such marking and transference only alters surface appearances, and Mozart’s characters are urgently attempting deeper psychological metamorphosis. This is where music comes to the rescue, and this early Mozart score is crammed with effulgent arias that explain more than any patient audience needs to know about the emotional trajectory of every character. Yes, I realize this can happen even in far greater scores of the operatic canon, but to characterize the musical bravado and self-assurance of Mozart at age 18 as uninhibited is to fall into massive understatement.

I am delighted to report that a cadre of excellent singers was recruited to carry out the challenging vocal demands Mozart made on these characters. Turkish-American singer Õznur Tülüoglu brandished her bright dramatic soprano with uncanny force to project the wide emotional scope of Sandrina, the noble woman Violante disguised as a common gardener—the finta giardiniera of the opera’s title. In the role of Arminda, a well-positioned young woman fought over by the libretto’s various men, Hungarian soprano Andrea Brassói-Jõrös confidently blazed through her fioriture. The panache of soprano Boglárka Brindás, a recent graduate of the Franz Liszt Music Academy, gave impressive credibility to Serpetta, a servant endowed with surprising emotional depth. In the pants role of the dashing young Ramiro, American vocalist Anna Trombetta’s cool, lyrical mezzo-soprano made her a most convincing suitor.

Although Nardo, Violante’s servant, would have been perceived as inhabiting the lowest social rank among the males portrayed in this 18th-century drama, Kyle White was clearly the production’s vocal star. His well-shaped phrases as well as his commanding, polished baritone confidently soared over Kozma’s orchestra even at full volume. Hungarian Artúr Szeleczki, a supple, lyric tenor, made a persuasive Count Belfiore, in spite of the bizarre circumstances into which the opera’s librettist Giuseppe Petrosellini entangles his character. Texan Eric Laine projected the proper demeanor of Podestà, the feckless mayor of this unimposing town outside of Milan, Italy, but I wanted to hear more power from his agile tenor.

In top form conducting a well-disciplined and expressive orchestra, Kozma shaped Mozart’s surprisingly sophisticated score with the sensitivity and flair we would expect from a first rate Don Giovanni production. Almási-Tóth kept the pace as lively as this aria-laden opera buffa allowed, and the staging filled the stark, L-shaped stage with more creative solutions than I imagined possible when I first saw the room.

Even the most pared-down description of the opera’s story defies elucidation, so let me assure the reader that in the end, each pair of lovers ends up with the person they were intended to have before the emotional demolition derby of the plot unfolded. The opera ends with a terse but emphatic choral statement by the entire cast that prefigures the final moral postscript of Don Giovanni.

This production of Mozart’s ‘La finta giardiniera’ was presented by Hungarian State Opera with San Diego’s Opera Neo at Budapest’s Eiffel Art Studios on July 1, 2022. It will reprise in San Diego at Bread & Salt in Barrio Logan on August 5 and 6, 2022.

Ken Herman

Ken Herman, a classically trained pianist and organist, has covered music for the San Diego Union, the Los Angeles Times' San Diego Edition, and for sandiego.com. He has won numerous awards, including first place for Live Performance and Opera Reviews in the 2017, the 2018, and the 2019 Excellence in Journalism Awards competition held by the San Diego Press Club. A Chicago native, he came to San Diego to pursue a graduate degree and stayed.Read more…

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1 Comment

  1. Cıgdem on July 4, 2022 at 9:01 pm

    Bravo ,👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Looks and sounds great I can’t wait to see it in San Diego August 6, thank you Öznur Hasibe Tuluoglu💖

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