The truth is that I’d had mixed feelings about going to Mozart’s La finta giardiniera at Glyndebourne. Early Mozart operas can be a somewhat tedious procession of recitativo alternating with aria, the latter usually of the ‘stand and deliver’ variety.
What’s more, it was to be produced by a young director with virtually no track record either on the opera stage or in the theatre, Frederic Wake-Walker. Would it turn out to be another tiresome travesty, the goings-on on stage apparently unrelated to the work and its universe?
Of course, in the event it was one of the most exciting productions seen at the house in some 45 years of Glyndebourne visits. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, conducted by Glyndebourne’s new musical director Robin Ticciati, were, as expected, on top form, producing scintillating sounds. And the seven who took the principal roles (Christiane Karg, Rachel Frenkel, Joélle Harvey, Nicole Heaston, Joel Prieto, Gyula Orendt and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke) were all outstanding, both as actors and singers. So far, so good.
But it was the production itself that was an extraordinary revelation. First, the director Wake-Walker and his designer (Antony McDonald) had actually located the action (at least initially) in the Rococo period. Quite a shock in itself. And the performers had clearly studied art of that time, at least sufficiently to reproduce credible Rococo gesture (see above).
As time went by – I seemed to be holding my breath for long periods – the production took on a wild, improvisatory life, one that clearly took a bewitched audience on a theatrical ride that all seemed to spring from character and situation – and from the music.
Who knew that nineteen year-old Mozart could be so breath-taking?