Another enjoyable Mozart piece

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By Melissa Riedel-Espinoza, Special to the Monitor

With his wealth of compositions, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the most favored composers in Western music, and well-liked at The Santa Fe Opera. This year they are presenting an earlier work of Mozart’s, “La Finta Giardiniera.” This opera, with its unrealistic plot, is enjoyable, no matter how nonsensical the action on the stage seems. Mozart’s music is so agreeable that it renders weaknesses in the storyline irrelevant.
The orchestra is, as usual, fantastic, as is the conductor, Harry Bicket. Bicket is also very pleasing to watch. It sounds as though this bouncy, energetic score derives some panache from the man with the baton.
The set is exactly what one would expect for a Mozart piece — however, this doesn’t mean it’s boring. Audience members can settle in their seats and view the extraordinary Santa Fe sunset happening in the background, making each performance unique. The costumes, as well, are fairly typical, but again, not in the least boring. The Podestà looks magnificent, as does his niece, Arminda.
Even the plain black clothing in which the servants are dressed is beautifully tailored, and the colors and fabrics provide a wonderful visual balance with the stage.
The entire cast does a beautiful job with a great deal of singing, in fact, this opera feels as though there is more singing contained within the three hours than normal. William Burden, as the Podestà, never flags, and his youthful voice remains energetic throughout. Heidi Stober and Laura Tatulescu, as Sandrina and Serpetta, provide nice contrast for one another, with Stober’s pure tone and Tatulescu’s biting onstage sarcasm. Joshua Hopkins, baritone, brings a rich color to the role of Nardo. All of their voices work incredibly well together, providing a gorgeous example of Mozart’s harmonic mastery.
Cecilia Hall as Ramiro and Joel Prieto as Count Belfiore are making their SFO debuts this season. Prieto’s voice is resonant without nasality and possesses sufficient stamina for a lot of on-stage time. Hall, as Ramiro, has a smooth mezzo voice that fills out the cast nicely. Her chemistry with Arminda, her romantic interest, sung by Susanna Phillips, is also phenomenal. Phillips is returning to Santa Fe after 2013’s production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Her engaging, radiant voice makes it hard to imagine a better fit for this role.
Mozart is frequently performed because it’s pleasant, the music provides a nice contrast with the more modern works the SFO presents, and it’s popular with a wide range of people. Those who attend should keep in mind that Mozart’s works are a bit longer than some of the other operas offered, but at three hours it is certainly not as long as many Mozart operas.
It’s suitable for attendees of all ages, and entertaining, albeit a bit repetitive (as with most operas in this style), with a fairly convoluted plot; however, the appeal of “La Finta Giardiniera” lies in Mozart’s gorgeous music, the sumptuous costumes, and the artistry on the stage and in the orchestra pit.