Having tackled all of Mozart‘s mature operas (with the exception of Die Entführung), Rene Jacobs and his crack band of period instrumentalists, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, now turn their attention to a little-known early comedy, La Finta Giardiniera – literally, “the pretend garden-girl”.
So far, so straightforward. But all is not quite what it seems. Although Mozart wrote this work in 1775 when he was 18 – his last opera buffa until his 1786 masterpiece Le Nozze di Figaro – Jacobs has chosen to present it in a revised form produced in 1796, five years after the composer’s death.
The 20-odd years separating the two versions saw huge development in musical style and orchestration. For example, clarinets, a novel rarity in the 1770s, had become standard in most orchestras by the 90s. This highly skilled anonymous edition – so authentically Mozartean that some argue it must be by the composer himself – is therefore a curious hybrid of streamlined early rococo brilliance and late classical magnificence.
Like Mozart’s own orchestration of Handel‘s Messiah, it takes a little while to get used to. But if Jacobs thinks this richer orchestration is more likely to appeal to modern ears than the sparser original, he’s probably right – and it’s impossible not to be won over by the total commitment of his vibrant account.
The music itself, in whatever guise, is full of youthful fun and exuberance – Mozart showing a deft touch for sparkling comedy that would come to fruition in his collaborations with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. And Jacobs’ keen sense of theatricality brings the opera to life marvellously, aided by an excellent cast.
The lively recitatives are stylishly accompanied by a cello and fortepiano, with the occasional addition of other instruments, such as a comically chugging bassoon. A harpsichord would have been appropriate for Mozart’s original version, but was outdated by the 1790s. Jacobs hedges his bets by using the earlier instrument for continuo accompaniment in some of the more baroque-like numbers.
As always with Jacobs, some of his idiosyncrasies can begin to grate on repeated listens, but that is a small quibble for what is an overwhelmingly joyous set.
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