La Finta Giardiniera

8 June 2023

Mozart was just 18 years old when he wrote +La Finta Giardiniera+ - according to conductor Chloe Rooke, no longer a child, but a young man.

“He was a little bit younger than the singers who will be singing these roles - a young man coming of age. He was really exploring different things.”

Director Anja Kühnhold also feels that the opera is not the work of a child.

“If you really look deeply into the characters, you find that so much about them is written into the music - especially the finales. Mozart was already writing in a very mature way. Some young people have experienced a lot through their love life already, and some have absolutely no experience. I think the piece tells people of every age something about life and about love. It isn’t just a piece for young people.”

In many ways, says Kühnhold, +Finata+ remains a very modern opera.

“A lot of it is about power games, and insecurities, and of course about love. It’s about the pain of the characters, but also about the process of becoming an adult. It’s about t reflecting and growing through experiences, making decisions, and perhaps finding out that the thing you thought you wanted is in fact not right for you - which can also be a painful process.”

Kühnhold’s production was initially made for the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, with an older, professional cast. Re-making it with the Dutch National Opera Academy is, she says, a chance to look at the production from a new perspective.

“Approaching this with young, fresh-minded singers allows you to look at the thing in a completely different way. You need to dig deeper into each of the characters, because you need to explain more. The process is more open, and we explore more together; the young singers bring a different energy to the characters. Where we have two different people sharing one role, you can bring aspects of both singers into the creation of this character, so it becomes theirs. The process is one of fun and joy, exploring the production with completely new eyes. You learn a lot yourself - it’s really giving and taking.”

Rooke also enjoys the sense of discovery that the young cast members bring.

“The singers are finding things within themselves, discovering parts of themselves that they might not have known. We see all the phases of love from a kind of blind date all the way to a relationship that went terribly wrong.

“Mozart plays with the music for each of these characters, and you can really hear the difference between the writing for each of them. As the plot develops, you see how he supports the coalescing of different love stories with a change in the music for different characters - not just that they have come closer together, but also that their music becomes more similar. By the end he has coupled them up in the way that their music is written, too.”

Watching Kühnhold develop the production’s characters with the young cast feeds back, in turn, says Rooke, to the way she approaches the score’s details.

“Mozart wrote so cleverly, bringing back different themes and even different tempo markings later. You can really see his narrative writing in his choice of tempi as we go from beginning to end. Musically, the orchestration is also a very interesting aspect. He uses a very classical orchestra - strings, keyboard, then oboes and horns, but then also the addition of extra instruments - timpani, flutes as well - it seems almost lavish. I guess the orchestra he was working with in Munich was willing to support that, and it’s just enormous fun. Just the different colours used throughout are one of the most beautiful things about the opera.

“Even at the very beginning of the opera, in the introduction, every character is talking about their own circumstances, and in just one number, we had eight different kinds of emotions and characters. If the orchestra can find so many different colours and articulations in one number, it’s kind of brilliant.”

Just as Kühnhold’s work with characterisation informs Rooke’s approach to orchestral colour, so Rooke’s work with the score feeds back into Kühnhold’s staging.

“For me, it’s very important to connect what people are doing on stage to what is written in the music,” she says. “Because there is always a reason for repetition; there is a reason why the music suddenly changes - whether it’s the tempo, the rhythm, the key - it all belongs together. The music is not something imposed onto a character. It grows out of the characters - it’s what they feel, what they are in that moment, and it changes because they are what they are. For me, it’s important to read the layer of text, to read the layer of music, and to bring this together in what they are doing on stage.

“You can hear everything and feel everything. Sometimes you need to support it. You might also decide to go against that, but you need to sit with the music, and to speak with the conductor, too.

“With recitatives, you need to work together. It’s a very close collaboration with the singers, just to create the tension that leads from recitative to aria. Even silence has a strong meaning; so the challenge is to give all these things a reason and a physicality. The translation of the body language of the singers is the key to directing for me.”

“I think recitatives are one of the most fun bits,” agrees Rooke. “It’s really drama through singing. Understanding how we can work together in terms of pace, and also the vocal colour that the singers can use on certain words to bring or release emphasis.”

+La Finta Giardiniera+ is, as both Kühnhold and Rooke see it, neither a tragic opera (“everyone survives!”) nor strictly speaking a comedy; at the same time, it is both.

“It occupies a middle ground,” says Rooke, “as Rossini would later in some of his operas, like +Cenerentola+ - these operas were straddling the line. It depends a little on how you view the characters. If we see something similar in ourselves it’s not so funny, but it makes us a laugh - an uncomfortable kind of humour, a really emotionally complex mix.”

For this and many other reasons, Kühnhold says, +La Finta Giardiniera+ remains very much an opera for our times.

“Each of the characters sticks very much to their own dreams, hopes, and wishes, and really clings to them with all the energy they have. That makes it very close to us; we do very much follow our own dreams and wishes.

“Mozart is always playing with his characters, and these human emotions still trigger us. There is nothing old-fashioned about it. We are still playing with our feelings through this music. It’s centuries later, but it still connects us.”

Photos: Reinout Bos