On hearing The Royal Irish Academy of Music were presenting La Finta Giardiniera (The Secret Gardener) as their student production this year I had no intention of turning down an opportunity to see Mozart performed in Dublin. The RIAM has been presenting student operas for over ten years now and they have developed into a terrific performance platform for emerging singers and musicians. Having seen their very impressive production of Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen last year I had an inkling this could be another treat. A lesser known work by Mozart and written when he was only eighteen years old La Finta Giardiniera displays astonishing maturity and complexity in both music and theme but like many operas, it suffers from a somewhat convoluted libretto.
The set which was designed in collaboration with students from IADT Dun Laoghaire was quite sparse for the most part consisting of a garden space surrounded by a low hedge with various chairs and tables moved around as needed. This arrangement along with the rather subtle costumes worked well and tied in with the garden theme but also aided the regularly large number of performers on stage involved in a lot of activity and dancing in various scenes. Those who were not on stage for particular scenes sat on benches either side of the stage visible to the audience which I found an intriguing dramatic touch blurring the theatrical space as you saw the cast step into and out of character. Being quite a small theatre the placing of the RIAM Opera Orchestra which was conducted by Andrew Synnott from the harpsichord behind the stage brought the action closer to the audience and created a more theatrical experience.
What worked less well were the projections above the stage of graffiti-styled love hearts and slogans. The intention was to provide cues to the evolving drama but I found them distracting and their rather urban and neon quality jarred with the more bucolic escapades unfolding below. Above them again were the surtitles which required continual looking up quite far from the stage to follow the story although it was a credit to the acting skills of the cast that the plot wasn’t too difficult to decipher.
Essentially the tale of a succession of mismatched passions and disguised encounters this opera is brim full of delightful arias and uplifting ensembles which made it an ideal choice for a student production. The spotlight was quite democratic as the distribution of arias allowed each of the seven leading cast member numerous opportunities to shine. These arias, some comic and jovial others reflective and sorrowful demanded significant mood changes which the cast handled with confidence and professionalism. They were not found wanting in their acting skills either in what was quite an energetic production which required buffa vignettes to quickly change to more sombre and reflective musings. All of this colour was excellently choreographed, especially in Act III as a rather chaotic banquet scene unfolded.
In what promises to be a very exciting year for Irish opera this was an early taster of the depth of operatic talent we have in Ireland to encourage and celebrate.
Pics, cast and other details about this production are here
The Royal Irish Academy of Music is here
IADT Dun Laoghaire Design for Stage & Screen Course is here