Two Singers Contemplate Opera Neo’s Early Mozart Production of ‘La finta giardiniera’

Anticipating the San Diego opening of Opera Neo’s production of Mozart’s La finta giardiniera on August 5, I held a conversation with Öznur Tülüoglu and Kyle White, two of the American singers who performed in last month’s production of the opera in Budapest. Like the Budapest production, [] San Diego’s early Mozart adventure will continue Opera Neo’s collaboration with the Hungarian State Opera that featured stage direction by Hungarian State Opera’s general director András Almási-Tóth and several singers from his company.

Õznur Tülüoglu & Kyle White in the July 1, 2022, Budapest production of  La finta giardiniera. [photo (c.) Gary Payne Photography]

For Tülüoglu and White, their six-week residence in Budapest to prepare and perform this early Mozart opera was also their initiation to the storied Hungarian capital.

“It is a great city, and I am eager to go back. But it was quieter than I had expected—people mind their own business. I also discovered that I could enjoy great Turkish food there,” said Tülüoglu, who is Turkish-American.

White explained that on the company’s first day off, Opera Neo artistic director Peter Kozma, a Budapest native, took his American crew on a tour of the Buda Castle, the Matthias Church and the other historic sites on the city’s prominent Buda Hill overlooking the Danube.

“But we were even more intrigued to explore the 18 miles of caves located outside of the city,” White said. “Our tenor colleague Eric Laine discovered these hidden gems, caves created by warm mineral springs that also served as hiding places during World War II.”

Perish the thought, however, that stage director András Almási-Tóth’s upcoming San Diego production will be a carbon copy of his Budapest staging.

“Prior to the first day of rehearsal here,  András gave us a long list of changes, including a complete re-staging of the first scene,” White noted.

“András has developed his concept of my character Sandrina so that now she is a vampire—a more convincing explanation of why she seeks to re-unite with her lover [Count Belfiore] who killed her in a quarrel before the opera begins,” Tülüoglu explained.

“It’s his ingenuity that Öznur’s status as a vampire makes her want to go back to the Count to bite him and make him immortal—as she is,” White added.

White also noted that Mozart’s three mature operas written with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte have prominent baritone roles, e.g. Count Almaviva in Le Nozze de Figaro and the title character of Don Giovanni, and his role of Sandrina’s servant Nardo expands the baritone canon. “Finta adds another major Mozart baritone role, filled with virtuoso arias that are closer to the structure and ornamented style of Baroque opera,” said White. “Although the libretto portrays my character as a comedic foil like [Don Giovanni’s] Leporello, András has given his characterization greater weight.”

In North America, Mozart’s early La finta giardiniera is not considered standard repertory, but Tülüoglu has already performed the opera. “I knew the score because I sang the role of Arminda,” she said. “But I was intrigued to perform Sandrina, even though it is a more difficult role.”

“I have not performed this opera before,” White said,  “but having sung the huge role of Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, I was not nervous about singing Nardo in Finta.

Opera Neo’s production of Mozart’s ‘La finta giardiniera’–a co-production with Hungarian State Opera–will be given August 5 &  6, 2022, at Bread & Salt in San Diego’s Barrio Logan.

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