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M22: LA FINTA SEMPLICE (The Fake Simpleton) K.51
This DVD is of a live opera performance from the Residenzhof at the Salzburg Summer Festival in 2006. It is a part of the Mozart22 Project.
Written in 1768, this 3 act comedy was Wolfgang Mozarts first full length opera. It is a farce without much depth to either the story or the musical structure of beautiful arias strung together with dry sung speech in between (though plenty excellent for a 12 yrs old composer!). Musically, there are some flashes of brilliant in a few wonderful soprano arias and ensembles, but most of it is rather boring. If you arent a die hard Mozart fan or weird Brechtian conceptual theater fan, youll likely find this thing as engaging as watching a snail trying to out-run a slug.
The story is convoluted... as operatic farces often are. The soldier Fracasso and his underling Sgt. Simone are billeted at Don Cassandros house. They fall in love with their hosts sister Giacinta and her maid Ninetta (in like order), but Don Cassandro and his younger brother Don Polidoro arent keen on letting their sister and maid marry the 2 guests. So the 4 lovers conspire to have Fracassos beautiful sister Rosina distract the 2 disagreeable brothers away by pretending to be a dumb brunette (a rather novel idea there, I gather) for them to court. And courting her they do, to varying degrees of success (you can google for the outcome if youd like, but Im not telling since that little bit of suspense might be the only incentive left for you to keep watching this thing after 30 minutes or so).
In this performance, the opera is completely overhauled and all the Italian sung speech that connected the arias are completely scratched. Instead, we have a beautiful female narrator called Auctoritas (who also interacts with the characters) explaining their motives and actions to us in German (the arias are sung in original Italian, however. Who would want an opera to be easily understood anyhow? What a preposterous idea!). There is also a Dark Rosina, an actress who dresses like Rosina and acts out her dark sides from behind while the real Rosina sings (which I find rather annoyingly distracting).
Its an entirely conceptual theatrical work with sterilized futuristic looking staging in all white (even the very unflatteringly non-form-fitting costumes for the singers are all white) with the exception of Auctoritas in a smart Kill Bill-ish yellow bodysuit. Reading the original synopsis of the opera wont really help you much with this shows abstract concepts like making the brothers mime sign language as they sing and dont really become really interactive to others until they have fallen for Rosina... warmed to humanhood by love, if you will.
It helps if you watch the Making of section of the Bonus Features before watching the opera to hear some of what the performers think about their part in the opera. Im afraid the introduction in the booklet that comes with the DVD will not be very helpful to those not familiar with the Germanic obsession for psychological and mechanical analysis of a play (or maybe even to those that are... a bunch of technical lingo without really explaining anything, really). The aria-by-aria Synopsis is a must read before viewing this DVD unless you are linguistically gifted in both German and Italian (I can handle one or the other, but when both are presented in the same opera without time to adjust like this, my linguistic neurons just throw in the towel and go on strike).
To see photos from this show, visit http://www.salzburgfestival.at/popup_fotoservice.php?lang=de&id=132
Auctoritas (the narrator) ::: Marianne Hamre (non-singing part)
Rosina (Hungarian Baroness) ::: Malin Hartelius (soprano)
Don Cassandro (Rich Cremonese Landowner) ::: Josef Wagner (bass)
Don Polidoro (Cassandros younger brother) ::: Matthiäs Klink (tenor)
Giacinta (Cassandros younger sister) ::: Marina Comparato (soprano)
Ninetta (Giacintas maid) ::: Silvia Moi (soprano)
Fracasso (Hungarian army captain, brother of Rosina) ::: Jeremy Ovenden (tenor)
Simone (Fracassos sergeant) ::: Miljenko Turk (bass)
Dark Rosina (allegorical figure of Rosinas dark side) ::: Anna Tenta (mime part)
Michael Hofstetter/ Camerata Salzburg
Stage Director ::: Joachim Schlömer
See a clip from this production at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAjdbImtuNA
If you havent already guessed it, I dont care much for this staging. Musically, this youthful cast does very well; however, especially the Rosina of the Swedish soprano Malin Hartelius. I have been following this singer since I first saw her as Sophie in the DVD of Der Rosenkavalier from Zurich Opera, and she has been excellent in every recordings Ive been able to get my hand on. So her taking the lead role in this opera was the big incentive for me to acquire the DVD and kept watching/listening. Im afraid the opera doesnt move me, but the part where Rosina sings will keep me coming back to it once in a while. She has never been in a better voice! The range is very large for someone whos been having a career singing soubrette roles (either the maid or the ingenue), with breath-taking ethereal top notes and very subtle way of conveying her characters thoughts in her voice and her facial expressions. She doesnt just dazzle you with her vocal pyrotechnics (and vocal pyrotechnics she does very well, having been groomed in her early career singing florid and emotionally-loaded Bach cantatas). She listens to the other voices and the orchestra and blends well in ensemble numbers. A wonderful all around singer who really ought to be more famous than she is!!
The rest of the singing cast also perform very well musically. The German basso Josef Wagner is vocally quite impressive with really solid low notes as Don Cassandro. Matthiäs Klink is a fine Don Polidoro... very good sport with all the things he is asked to do on stage. Soprani Marina Comarato and Silvia Moi are a mistress-maid team as Giacinta and Ninetta. Jeremy Ovenden is a wonderfully smug Fracasso and Miljenko Turk his slightly less smug Sgt. Simone.
The German actress Marianne Hamre is very engaging as the narrator Auctoritas... And her spoken German such a pleasure to hear... very precisely pronounced and amusingly intoned. O, she doesn't make funny noise, but the way she speaks.... its like she is letting you in on a private joke. It doesnt hurt that she is a pleasure to look at either. Anna Tenta does some really creepy miming moves as the dark alter ego of Rosina. Im afraid she does them so well that Im not keen on running into her on the street in broad daylight.
The piece is kept together well by Maestro Michael Hofstetter from the orchestra pit (not much of a pit, really) and the pace is just brisk enough to keep me awake for the entire first viewing of this DVD.
All in all, it is not one of Mozarts finest operas and the story is not very engaging no matter how modern and conceptual they have staged it. It is a curiosity piece for serious opera fans; however, being one of historys greatest composers first full length opera. And one really cant ask more from a 12 years old. But still... Only recommended for serious opera fans. A verdict I loathe to give since it features one of my favorite singers in the lead role. But if you are interested in more friendly opera recordings with Malin Hartelius in it, have a go at the DVDs of Monteverdis Il ritorno dUlisse in patria, Strauss Der Rosenkavalier from Zurich Opera, and MozartAbduction from the Seraglio from Salzburg.
1 DVD. Sung in Italian with spoken German dialogs. Subtitle in: German, English, French, Italian, Spanish. Booklet contains synopsis in English, German, and French.
Extra: Making of documentary, clips from the Salzburg production of La Traviata and other M22 Project works.
Read review of other Mozart opera at:
Apollo et Hyacinthus (Salzburg 2006), Ascanio in Alba (Salzburg 2006), Bastien und Bastienne/Der Schauspieldirektor (Salzburg 2006), La clemenza di Tito (Salzburg 2003), La clemenza di Tito (Zürich 2005), La clemenza di Tito (Munich 2006), La clemenza di Tito (JE Gardiner), Cosi fan tutte (Ponnelle film), Don Giovanni (Met 2000), Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Salzburg 1998), La finta giardiniera (Salzburg 2006), La finta semplice (Salzburg 2006), Idomeneo (Salzburg 2006), Idomeneo (Met 198-), Lucio Silla (Salzburg 2006), Mitridate (Salzburg 1997), Mitridate (Rousset), Le nozze di Figaro (live performance- SDO 2007), Die Zauberflöte (ROH 2001), Die Zauberflöte (Modena 2005), Die Zauberflöte (Zürich 1999)
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12