La Finta Giardinera
THE ATLANTA OPERA’S partnership with OnSite Opera to produce The Secret Gardener (La Finta Giardinera), young Mozart’s 1775 opera, was simultaneously a rousing success and an unfortunate victim of circumstances beyond its control (seen May 20). Hosted by Atlanta’s stunning Botanical Gardens, a thirty-acre oasis seated in the middle of Midtown, all three performances of The Secret Gardener were sold out a year in advance. The collaboration was part of artistic and general director Tomer Tvulun’s newly initiated Discoveries Series, an attempt to bring opera to new audiences throughout the city. Visitors milling about the gardens were able to enjoy the singing as well—even without a ticket.
OnSite Opera, founded by stage director Eric Einhorn and Jessica Kiger, is a New York City-based company that strives to provide audiences with immersive opera-in-your-face experiences. Earlier this month the same production and cast was seen at New York’s Westside Community Garden, but the Atlanta show began in the Robinson Gazebo, just beyond the floating fiddlehead. Twenty minutes into the opera ominous weather forced a frantic relocation just inside the Fuqua Conservatory, home of tropical carnivorous plant life and multi-colored orchids. The ensemble resumed its ninety-minute version, a nicely pruned edition by Kelley Rourke with orchestration for wind octet and double bass scored by Yoni Khan and Thomas Carroll.
Mozart’s modus operandi: characters in disguise, fickle counts, and garden intrigue are all elements within The Secret Gardener and one can hear musical and vocal precursors to well-loved characters within his better know operas. The character Sandrina/Violante (Ashley Kerr) was Mozart’s Countess-in-the-making and Kerr, an emerging artist, sang with a sizable, yet innately charming soprano. Her rendition of “Listen…the dove is sighing” was sustained and technically demanding, reminiscent of Mozart’s future composition, “Porgi amor.” Kerr’s effervescent colleague Maeve Höglund, here heard in the role of Arminda, could have easily been cast as a Donna Elvira. Once relocated to the South American greenhouse, the audience had the benefit of hearing Höglund’s vibrant soprano in the aria, “Youthful lovers are too eager” and her easy ascent to what must have been a high E flat. As it turned out, the indoor setting (cramped as it was) provided a much more pleasing aural experience.
Spencer Viator made an instant impression in the role of Count Belfiore with his cool stage demeanor and elegant phrasing in “She’s a dream, a dazzling vision”, an aria that undoubtedly heralded the forthcoming “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön.”
Music director Geoffrey McDonald kept tempos at a nice clip for his cast of well-coached and intelligible singers who bravely improvised staging in the new space. Baritone Jorell Williams (Nardo) managed lovely singing despite lots of active choreography. Mezzo Kristin Gornstein (Ramiro), soprano Alisa Jordheim (Serpetta), and Jonathan Blalock (Podesta) were engaged ensemble members, but the abridged version of the opera, compounded by some additional interruptions to the show, didn’t allow the audience to hear the full spectrum of their abilities. Yet despite the chaos, the Atlanta Opera pulled off a rarely-produced Mozart opus with budding young singers amidst blossoming florae. And audience members left chirping about all the excitement. —Stephanie Adrian