La finta semplice [Sung in Italian]
Rosina Celeste Lazarenko
Don Cassandro David Stout
Don Polidoro Oliver Kuusik
Giacinta Helen Evora
Ninetta Joana Seara
Fracasso Nicholas Smith
Simone Tom Oldham
Orchestra of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama
William Kerley Director
Tom Rogers Designer
Matthew Eagland Lighting
Reviewed by: Josh Meggitt
Reviewed: 10 November, 2005
Venue: Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London
This fine staging of Mozart’s early opera buffa, “La finta semplice” (The Pretended Simpleton) in many ways outstripped the material. Written in 1768 when Mozart was 12 years old, the score is filled with enchanting musical moments that presage his later operatic work. It is for just these moments that people will want to see the work, and a key reason for staging it, appearing as it does in the Barbican Centre’s Young Genius Series which “celebrates brilliance, originality and spirit in the early works of some of the world’s greatest artists.”
“La finta semplice” presents us with two Mozarts: one whose voice is instantly recognisable (the opening Sinfonia and many of the arias), the other applying the language of an earlier age (spare instrumentation and the incidental music). This opera, while well-crafted, seldom impresses, but that is with the hindsight of knowing his later operas.
And it doesn’t help that the libretto is bland yet convoluted, simplistic yet confusing. The narrative centres around the attempts by the young and dashing Captain Fracasso and Sergeant Simone to bring love and marriage to misogynistic aristocrat Don Cassandro and his idiot-brother Don Polidoro, so as to enable Fracasso to marry Cassandro’s sister Giacinta and Simone her maid Ninetta. Fracasso’s sister Rosina is enlisted to seduce the brothers, with much ensuing complication. But it ends happily, with the loose ends neatly tied in a manner frighteningly akin to a Hollywood romantic comedy.
Despite these shortcomings, the music remains engaging and the production frequently riveting. The set by designer Tom Rogers initially caused some concern – Cassandro’s grounds depicted in sharp contours of astro-turf green – but soon gave way to smooth juxtapositions between indoors and out, lush colours and texture, and imaginative use of props and wonderfully elaborate costumes.
The performances were of a very high standard, both in terms of acting and singing, and the characters – on paper little more than thinly drawn one-dimensional types – were filled with warmth, humour and emotional depth. David Stout’s Cassandro was an outstanding buffoon, beautifully balancing both Oliver Kuusik’s pathetic Polidoro and Helen Evora’s delightful Giacinta. Celeste Lazarenko as Rosina handled the spotlight deftly – “Colla boca e non col core” in Act One was charming; Joana Seara as Ninetta also delivered a strong performance, her rounded tone and playful character most convincing.
Director William Kerley also deserves credit, ensuring a warm and comedic tone was maintained, assisted not least by a jaunty accompaniment from Nicholas Kok and the orchestra. Despite lacklustre and awkward material, then, a show with much to commend it.