fri 01/07/2022

First Person: Who is Mozart's fake garden girl? | reviews, news & interviews

First Person: Who is Mozart's fake garden girl?

First Person: Who is Mozart's fake garden girl?

The director of Glyndebourne's La finta giardiniera explores her identity

Gardening: Freddie Wake-Walker in rehearsal© James Bellorini

La finta giardiniera is about seven characters in search of love. They are all pretending to some extent – they are not being truthful to themselves. It’s a classic Mozartian conceit which comes back in Così fan tutte in particular but also in Le nozze di Figaro – that, in order to love someone, you need to know yourself. Finta is about these seven characters coming to some level of understanding by the end, and therefore being able to love each other.

The title character, the “fake garden girl”, is called Sandrina, but that’s only a made-up name. She’s actually called Violante. Before the opera starts, she’s been stabbed by her lover Count Belfiore in a jealous rage and left for dead. So she becomes a gardener maid at the Palace of Lagonero where the Mayor, the Podestà, is living. She does harbour some hope of finding Count Belfiore again, and by chance (of course) he arrives at the palace ready to marry the Podestà’s niece, Arminda.

And yet, while literally she is the one who is hiding her identity behind a pretence, in fact among all the characters she is the only one who is truthful to herself and her love for Belfiore. For her, the piece is about this chance meeting again with her ex-lover, and her slowly allowing him back into her life despite what he’s done. It is difficult to portray but she shows great strength in forgiving him. (Meanwhile, all the other characters are actually putting on this pretence and pretending to love the people they’re not really supposed to love.)

Although it is a comic opera, there are some dark moments, at the end of Act Two when Sandrina and Belfiore go mad. I actually see it as a special moment of clarity between them. It’s the moment when they throw away all the element of “finta”, look each other in the eye and are completely truthful to themselves. Finally the madness is somehow a sort of liberation.

The word “finta” – which also appears in the title of Mozart’s opera La finta semplice, composed when he was 12 – is very interesting. It’s quite difficult to translate into English because in football it means a trick or a dummy and it can also mean false or fake, so it has a number of different meanings. What the whole piece really says is that we’re all “finta”, the whole time, on different levels. The way that we behave around others varies – we’re always putting on some sort of show. Ultimately, what La finta giardiniera suggests is that the most truthful thing that we can do in life is accept the artificiality.

What the whole piece really says is that we’re all “finta”, the whole time, on different levels

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