Mozart’s Finta Giardiniera at the Ryedale Festival

Hardly necessary to say, but Mozart’s Finta Giardiniera is a remarkable work. ¬†Written at the age of eighteen, it looks forward to Nozze di Figaro not just in the facility of tuneful writing and its boisterous ensembles but, more importantly, in its exploration of human relationships. What might have been a simple comic romp of disguises and thwarted infatuation becomes, as with Cosi Fan Tutte, a lesson in the meaning of love. Getting the right balance between external fun and internal feelings is not easy but at the Ryedale Festival Nina Brazier made a good job of it. The 1920s garden setting, with lovely costumes designed by Laura Stanfield, worked perfectly for the amorous intrigues, and if the darker scenes in the forest and cave, where the anguish of misdirected passion reaches its climax, did not – with the limited stage facilities – quite come off, this was a minor drawback.

The young singers making up the cast were uniformly excellent. In the pivotal role of Sandrina, the single three-dimensional character in the piece, Alice Privett convincingly communicated the contradictions of love, investing the vocal phrasing with emotional intensity, but also doubt. Kieran Carrel, as her lover Belfiore, matched her in hope and hesitancy; he has a fine tenor which was never pushed too hard. Clare Tunney was a formidably tyrannical Arminda and with her strong upper register, surely has a future as a Verdi soprano. Her erstwhile suitor Ramiro has little to do except express the disappointments of rejection but with her warm mezzo, Anna Harvey did this extremely well. Bass baritone Harry Thatcher, the Nardo, has another voice of much promise and this combined with an engaging stage presence. Jessica Cale was a perky Serpietta and Robin Horgan an assured Don Anchise.

The new, witty translation by John Warrack, a long-standing patron of the Ryedale Festival, came across with clarity. But there was a problem: the volume of the singing relative to that of the instrumental ensemble of only ten players placed at the back of the stage created an unfortunate imbalance.  A pity because this somewhat marred what was otherwise a most enjoyable and commendable performance.