Mozart's Secret Garden

Mozart’s The Secret Gardener

Fri, July 13, 2018, 7:00pm

Sold Out


Become entangled in the storytelling of The Secret Gardener (La finta giardiniera) as performers and audience members meet in the beautiful setting of Caramoor’s Sunken Garden. Written by an 18-year-old Mozart, The Secret Gardener is a story of love, madness, and redemption that unfolds in the lush grounds of a beautiful garden. Disguises and mistaken identities abound in Mozart’s charming tale of a triple love triangle! Enjoy a summer evening outdoors with this lighthearted comic opera, performed in English. Seating is extremely limited for this unique performance, so be sure to book well in advance!

Produced in collaboration with On Site Opera.

“It was the kind of unique, immersive, site-specific production that is OSO’s bread and butter … all in all, it was the perfect entertainment for a spring evening.” — Broadway World

Ashley Kerr (Sandrina)
Emalie Savoy (Arminda)
Katrina Galka (Serpetta)
Kristin Gornstein (Ramiro)
Spencer Viator (Belfiore)
Michael Kuhn (Podesta)
Jorell Williams (Nardo)

Grand Harmonie
Geoffrey McDonald, conductor
Eric Einhorn, director
Kelley Rourke, English translation & dialogue
Yoni Kahn & Thomas Carroll, chamber orchestration
Beth Goldenberg, costume designer

This production of The Secret Gardener was originally co-produced by On Site Opera and The Atlanta Opera.

Afterglow Reception for All Audience Members

Ashley Kerr, soprano

Artist Website

Praised for her “plush and seductive” tone, soprano Ashley Kerr is rapidly garnering attention from critics and opera companies alike. Most recently, Ms. Kerr debuted as Ciocio San in Madama Butterfly with Salt Marsh Opera and the soprano soloist in Orff’s Carmina Burana with the New Jersey Festival Orchestra. In the fall of 2014, Ms. Kerr made her Lincoln Center debut in concert with the Opera Orchestra of New York under the baton of Eve Queler at Alice Tully Hall.

Other recent performances include role debuts of Mimì and Musetta in La bohème and a triumphant return to Le nozze di Figaro as Countess Almaviva. In 2013, Ms. Kerr sang the title role in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah in the United States and Tel Aviv, Israel. In October 2012, Ms. Kerr made her European debut as Sally Follett in A Death in the Family in an award-winning joint production with the Center for Contemporary Opera and the Armel Festival. During the 2012 Fort Worth Opera Festival season, Ms. Kerr triumphed as Myrrhine in their production of Mark Adamo’s Lysistrata. She has also performed with the Virginia Opera, Caramoor, Crested Butte Music Festival, and Opera Carolina.

Soprano Ashley Kerr is an alumna of Caramoor’s Bel Canto Young Artist mentoring program and is an award recipient from the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and others.

A dedicated interpreter of new music, Ms. Kerr has been involved in the workshops and premieres of many new works including Jorge Martín’s Before Night Falls, Stephen Schwartz’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon, and Persis Parshall Vehar’s Eleanor Roosevelt. Ms. Kerr has received awards from various competitions including the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the Giulio Gari Foundation, the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation and the Violetta DuPont Vocal Competition.


Emalie Savoy

Emalie Savoy, soprano


Soprano Emalie Savoy was awarded First Prize in Voice at the prestigious 2015 ARD International Music Competition in Munich, Germany. In addition, she received prizes of distinction from the German theater magazine Orpheus, and a debut CD recording prize from the GENUIN Classics label.

Praised for the “gleaming richness” of her voice by The New York Times, the young American soprano is a compelling and dynamic vocal artist. The lyric beauty of her voice and the singular passion she brings to her performances have touched audiences worldwide. Upcoming engagements include Erste Dame in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, conducted by Gergely Madaras and directed by Daniel Kramer, performances as the Countess in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at the 2016 Castleton Festival, conducted by Rafael Payare and directed by Maria Tucci, and the release of her forthcoming debut album in 2016 with GENUIN Classics.

A Juilliard graduate, soprano Emalie Savoy made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2012 in The Makropolus Case and was since awarded First Prize in voice at the ARD International Music Competition.

Ms. Savoy has performed to great acclaim in both operatic and concert repertoire, making her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2012 as Kristina in Leoš Janáček’s The Makropulos Case, conducted by Jiří Bělohálovek. In recognition of her outstanding artistic achievement and potential, she was a recipient of a 2013 Leonore Annenberg Fellowship, the 2012 Hildegard Behrens Foundation Young Artist Humanitarian Award, and she was awarded the 2011 Leonie Rysanek Grand Prize at the George London Foundation Competition.

Recent engagements included performances of the role of Sylviane in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Die lustige Witwe; Erste Dame in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Salzburger Landestheater with the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg; the role of Anna in the world premiere of Schubertstrasse 200 at the Salzburger Landestheater with the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg; soprano soloist in Handel’s Messiah with the Oratorio Society of New York at Carnegie Hall; a performance of selections from Britten’s Russian language cycle, “The Poet’s Echo,” at Weill Recital Hall with pianist Natalia Katyukova; Céphise in Rameau’s Pygmalion with On Site Opera, conducted by Jennifer Peterson; and Ms. Savoy was featured in recital by the BIG ARTS foundation on Sanibel Island, Florida, with pianist Nathan Brandwein.

A native of Albany, New York, Ms. Savoy completed The Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and holds Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Vocal Performance from The Juilliard School. In addition, she studied at the Gerard Mortier International Opera Studio at the Salzburg State Theater, the Chautauqua Institution, and the Internationale Meistersinger Akademie in Neumarkt, Germany with soprano Edith Wiens.


Katrina Galka

Katrina Galka, soprano

Artist Website Listen Watch

The Oregonian praises soprano Katrina Galka for her recent performances of Adina in L’elisir d’amore, exclaiming that she “looked like a young Glenn Close, projecting power over Nemorino as she thrilled with fine coloratura filigree and pure high notes.” In the 2017-18 season, she returns to Portland Opera to debut the role of Gilda in Rigoletto. She also returns to Arizona Opera as Cunegonde in Candide, Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Woglinde in Das Rheingold, and a quartet of roles in Morganelli’s Hercules vs Vampires as well as joins the Las Vegas Philharmonic for Handel’s Messiah. Last season, she made role and company debuts with Atlanta Opera for Blondchen in Die Entführung aus dem Serail and at the Glimmerglass Festival as Atalanta in Xerxes. She also joined Arizona Opera as the First Wood Nymph in Rusalka, Clorinda in La cenerentola, and for its world premiere of Bohlmer’s The Riders of the Purple Sage and Dallas Opera as Voice I in Cuomo’s Arjuna’s Dilemma, presented as the company hosted the annual Opera America conference.

Katrina Galka is a three-time regional award winner in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions as well as the first-place winner of the Mario Lanza Scholarship.

The soprano recently is a former resident artist of Portland Opera, at which she sang a host of role debuts that include Adina in L’elisir d’amore, Johanna in Sweeney Todd, Elvira in L’italiana in Algeri, Papagena in Die Zauberflöte, Frasquita in Carmen, Adult Kim in Show Boat, and Ida in Die Fledermaus. She sang prior performances of Papagena in Die Zauberflöte, Isabel in The Pirates of Penzance, and covered Soeur Constance in The Dialogues of the Carmelites with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, at which she has been both a Festival Artist and a Gerdine Young Artist. She joined the CoOperative Program as Marie in La fille du régiment and sang the Cat in Schuller’s The Fisherman and his Wife with Odyssey Opera and the Boston Modern Opera Project. On the concert stage, she has joined the Rhode Island Civic Chorale for the Angel in Respighi’s Laude to the Nativity and Handel’s Messiah. She sang Elvira in excerpts of L’italiana in Algeri with the Oregon Symphony and Violetta in excerpts of La traviata with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. With various Dallas-based chamber ensembles and orchestras, she has sung Fauré’s Requiem, Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate, and Bach’s St. John Passion. In 2011, Katrina performed in the east coast premiere of Jake Heggie’s Pieces of 9/11 as the Girl Soprano, with Mr. Heggie at the piano.

Ms. Galka is a three-time regional award winner in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. She is the first-place winner of the Mario Lanza Scholarship and has received further awards from the National Opera Association Vocal Competition, Marcello Giordani International Vocal Competition, and the Heida Hermanns International Vocal Competition. She holds a Master of Music from Boston University, at which she sang Servilia in La clemenza di Tito, Carolina in Il matrimonio segreto, and Rosalba in Catan’s Florencia en el Amazonas. She earned a Bachelor of Music from Southern Methodist University, from which she graduated summa cum laude.


Kristin Gornstein

Kristin Gornstein, mezzo-soprano

Artist Website Listen Watch

Kristin Gornstein, mezzo-soprano, sings with some of the most exciting and innovative companies in the classical world in cities throughout the US and beyond. Hailed as, “rich-voiced” (The New York Times) and “a fine actress with a deep spacious sound” (, Kristin portrays both comic and dramatic roles with equal relish. This season she premiered the role of Paul in Kurt Vonnegut’s only opera, Happy Birthday Wanda June, with Indianapolis Opera, sang the Soprano II solos in several concerts with the acclaimed choral series Sacred Music in a Sacred Space in New York, and will rejoin the ensemble in Dido and Aeneas with the groundbreaking Mark Morris Dance Group at BAM.

In 2015, Kristin was a vocal fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, performing works by Bach, Korngold, and Golijov. She also debuted the role of Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia and the title role in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia with Loft Opera in Brooklyn, NY, both to critical acclaim. Other recent performances abroad include shows in Stockholm and Rotterdam with the Opera Mecatronica ensemble, Alto soloist in Handel’s Messiah, and the Second Soprano soloist in Mozart’s Mass in C Minor in Beirut, Lebanon. Originally from Indiana, Kristin now lives in Brooklyn.

An alumna of Caramoor’s Bel Canto Young Artist program, mezzo-soprano Kristin Gornstein has performed with opera companies around the country and the world including Indianapolis Opera, Loft Opera, and Opera Mecatronica.


Spencer Viator

Spencer Viator, tenor

Spencer Viator is a rising young tenor in the opera world. He was recently hailed for his “ringing and elegant tenor” by The New York Times for his return to LoftOpera as Ferrando in their production of Così fan Tutte. He was also lauded for his voice’s “wonderfully expressive emotions” (Broadway World) in his debut of Nadir in Les pêcheurs de perles with Winter Opera of St. Louis.

This 2017/18 season has been marked by a plethora of role debuts for Spencer Viator. First, in a Co-production with both the Atlanta Opera and On-Site Opera, he sang the role of Count Belfiore in Mozart’s The Secret Gardner. The Wall Street Journal praised Spencer for his “elegant, lyric tenor, with a subtle gift for self-mockery.” Spencer then went to Opera Saratoga, where under the baton of Maestro John Mauceri he performed and recorded the role of Junior Mister in Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock. Soon after, he joined The Berkshire Festival Opera for the 2nd Season to portray the roles of both the Tanzmeister and Brighella in their production of Ariadne auf Naxos where he was described as having a voice that “shone like burnished brass” (Berkshire Record).

Tenor Spencer Viator has been in many prestigious young artist programs including Des Moines Metro Opera’s Young Artist Program where he covered Fenton in Falstaff. He was also a two time Gerdine Young Artist at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as well as a Young Artist with Opera Saratoga.

The summer season has him returning to Des Moines Metro Opera to cover the role of Martin in The Tenderland. Afterwards he will be making his role debut of Tonio in La fille du regiment with Opera in the Heights in Houston.

For the past two years year he was a Beneson Young Artist with Palm Beach Opera where he sang such roles as, Offizier/Scarmuccio in Ariadne auf Naxos, Borsa in Rigoletto, and the family performances of both Ernesto in Don Pasquale and Frederick in The Pirates of Penzance. He also learned and performed the role of Fernando in Granados’ Goyescas with 24 hours notice, filling in for a sick colleague.

In 2015 he helped premiere the role of Soldier Hyimie in Ricky Ian Gordon’s new opera Morning Star with Cincinnati Opera.

He has been in many prestigious young artist programs including Des Moines Metro Opera’s Young Artist Program where he covered Fenton in Falstaff. He was also a two time Gerdine Young Artist at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as well as a Young Artist with Opera Saratoga.


Michael Kuhn

Michael Kuhn, tenor

Artist Website Listen

Described as “an artist of almost terrifying magnetism” (New York Observer) and praised for his “clear and robust” tenor (Opera News), Michael Kuhn is a versatile singer/actor specializing in the fields of opera, musical theatre, and concert works. Recent career highlights have included two Off-Broadway runs of Vid Guerrerio’s critically-acclaimed ¡Figaro! 90210 as Basel, Lázaro in Jorge Martín’s Before Night Falls with Florida Grand Opera, and Gabriel von Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus with Houston’s Opera in the Heights, a performance hailed by The Houston Press as “polished, soignee and hot to trot.” Later this season, Michael returns as a soloist with The Carolina Philharmonic and makes his debut with On Site Opera as Podestà in Mozart’s The Secret Gardner.

Michael has performed with companies such as Florida Grand Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Central City Opera, Virginia Opera, The Princeton Festival, Syracuse Opera, Brooklyn’s LoftOpera, and Opera in the Heights. With a special passion for new music, Michael has participated in several workshops, scenes and premiers with the Center for Contemporary Opera, American Lyric Theatre, Baltimore’s CenterStage and notably with the Foundation for Filipino Artists in the U.S. premiere of Spoliarium at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

Michael has performed with companies such as Florida Grand Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Central City Opera, Virginia Opera, The Princeton Festival, Syracuse Opera, Brooklyn’s LoftOpera, and Opera in the Heights.

Equally at home in Broadway repertoire, Michael has been seen recently as Mr. Erlanson in A Little Night Music, Padre in Man of La Mancha and Tobias in Sweeney Todd. In the concert realm, Michael was heard both nationally via broadcast and in Jordan Hall in the premiere of Illuminessence, prayers for peace, a Vatican-commissioned oratorio performed as part of The New England Conservatory’s ten-year memorial concert for September 11th. He has performed as a soloist with The Carolina Philharmonic, Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, Symphony by the Sea, Bourbon Baroque, and the Grace Chorale of Brooklyn in works such as Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem, and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

Michael is a native of Crofton, MD and currently resides in New York City. He is an alumnus of New England Conservatory (MM Vocal Performance) and Syracuse University (BM Music Industry).


Jorell Williams, baritone

Artist Website Listen

Baritone Jorell Williams has been hailed by Opera News as having “a solid vocal core and easy, natural production” and The New York Times for being “magnificent” and “rich toned,” as well as having “perfect” comedic timing. His 2015-2016 season included debuts with the Bay Chamber Music Festival as Escamillo in La tragedie de Carmen, PORTOpera as Morales in Carmen, Rochester Lyric as Frediano/Ippolito in John Musto’s Bastianello, and a return to the Chautauqua Institution as soloist with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for Marsalis’ Abyssinian Mass.

Engagements for the 2016-2017 season included his debut as Hannah-Before in Laura Kaminsky’s critically acclaimed As One with Seattle Opera, Baritone soloist in Durufle’s Requiem and excerpts of Joplin’s Treemonisha with the Kingston Chamber Choir, and he will reprise the role of Vernon Addams, a role he created, in a production of Hilliard and Boresi’s Blue Viola with Lyric Opera of the North. Recent appearances include Urban Arias, Santa Fe Opera, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Caramoor, Songfest LA, and Ravinia Festivals, New York City Center Encores, American Opera Projects, American Repertory Theater, and the Metropolitan Opera/Lincoln Center Theater workshop of Nico Muhly’s Two Boys.

Jorell Williams is an alumnus of Caramoor’s Bel Canto Young Artist mentoring program and is a recipient of the 2016 Marc and Eva Stern Fellowship at Songfest.

Jorell is a recipient of the 2016 Marc and Eva Stern Fellowship at Songfest, and garners top awards from the Gerda Lissner International Competition, Kurt Weill Foundation, Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation, Schuyler Foundation for Career Bridges, Liberace Foundation, Serge Koussevitzky Foundation, Liberace Foundation, and the Charles A. Lynam Competition.



Grand Harmonie

Grand Harmonie

Artist Website  Watch

Grand Harmonie brings vibrant, historically-informed, period-instrument performances of Classical and Romantic music to audiences across the Northeast. Founded in 2012 by a group of wind players interested in exploring the repertoire of Harmonie bands of the 18th century, the scope of the ensemble rapidly expanded to encompass a vast array of concert settings. Now in its fifth season, performances have included Harmoniemusik, salon concerts with fortepiano, mixed chamber music with brass and strings, full symphony orchestra, and both concert and fully-staged opera. A key player in the arts community, Grand Harmonie enjoys collaborations with numerous organizations and universities, and appears on multiple concert series in both Boston and New York.

Recent collaborations include performances with Harvard University Choir, Boston Opera Collaborative, Lorelei Ensemble, Bach Vespers NYC, GEMS Midtown Concerts, Met Museum Gallery Concerts, and more. The ensemble, a proven educational resource, has been invited to give performances and master classes in historical performance practice at Harvard University, MIT, Princeton University, The Longy School of Music of Bard College, NYU, the University of Washington, and Palm Beach Atlantic University.


Geoffrey McDonald

Geoffrey McDonald, conductor

Artist Website

Hailed by The Philadelphia Inquirer as a “promising and confident” member of the new generation of American conductors, Geoffrey McDonald commands a broad repertoire with extensive experience in operatic, symphonic, and choral works. He is steadily gaining recognition for his versatility — “an agile conductor … whose pacing is sure in both reflective and restless passages” (The New York Times) — and for his “original and flexible musical imagination” (The New York Observer).

Geoffrey’s passion for promoting new or neglected pieces and his enthusiasm for fresh, innovative presentation combine in his work as Music Director of On Site Opera, whose immersive production of Paisiello’s Barbiere di Siviglia in the summer of 2015 earned wide critical acclaim. Opera News wrote: “[McDonald] led with brio and admirable ensemble,” while The New York Times noted, “the conductor, Geoffrey McDonald, drew stylish, nimble playing.” This success followed recent productions of Handel operas, Orlando and Alcina, for which he partnered with director R.B. Schlather to create inventive art-installation-opera: “Conductor Geoffrey McDonald repeated the miracle of nuanced coordination [in On Site Opera’s production of Paisiello’s Barber of Seville] between orchestra and singers he recently accomplished with Orlando downtown” (The New York Observer).

He has acted as Assistant Conductor for Opera Philadelphia, the American Symphony Orchestra, and Gotham Opera. A dedicated educator, he has served on the faculties of Bard College and the Longy School of Music, and was Music Director of the Philadelphia Young Artists Orchestra and the Columbia University Bach Society. He is an active composer, and an original member (cellist/songwriter) of indie rock band Miracles of Modern Science. He earned his Masters in Conducting at Mannes College, and his Bachelors in Music at Princeton University.


Eric Einhorn

Eric Einhorn, director

Artist Website

Eric Einhorn has been praised by The Austin Chronicle as “a rising star in the opera world” and by Opera News for his “keen eye for detail and character insight.” He is the co-founder of On Site Opera, a company dedicated to immersive, site-specific productions. Mr. Einhorn has directed productions for Chicago Lyric Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Ft. Worth Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Florentine Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, Utah Opera, Michigan Opera Theater, the Pacific Symphony, and Gotham Chamber Opera. He has been a member of the stage directing staff at the Metropolitan Opera since 2005.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette named Mr. Einhorn’s production of Dialogues des Carmélites for Pittsburgh Opera one of the top ten classical music performances of 2011. He originally created the production for Austin Lyric Opera in 2009 and was awarded “Best Opera” at the Austin Critics’ Table Awards in addition to garnering him a nomination for “Best Director.” During summer of 2014, he directed Rameau’s Pygmalion at Madame Tussauds New York and the Lifestyle-Trimco mannequin showroom. This production featured the world’s first implementation of supertitles for Google Glass.


Kelley Rourke

Kelley Rourke, English translation & dialogue

Artist Website

Kelley Rourke is a librettist, translator and dramaturg. With composer John Glover, she wrote the opera Lucy (Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Nautilus Music-Theater, American Opera Projects, UrbanArias) and the orchestral song cycle Natural Systems (New York Youth Symphony at Carnegie Hall, San Francisco Conservatory’s BluePrint Series); the duo teamed up with baritone/guitarist Andrew Wilkowske to create Guns ‘n Rosenkavalier (Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Mill City Opera, Rockwood Music Hall). The Glimmerglass Festival commissioned Kelley to write the youth operas Odyssey (2015), with music by Ben Moore, and Wilde Tales (2016), with music by Laura Karpman.

Kelley has also created fifteen new English adaptations for standard and not-so-standard repertory, which have been heard at companies including English National Opera, The Glimmerglass Festival, Washington National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, The Atlanta Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and Apotheosis Opera, among others. These collaborations with dead composers have been hailed as “crackingly witty” (The Independent, London) and “remarkably well wedded to the music and versification in arias” (The New York Times). Upcoming projects include Robin Hood with Ben Moore (The Glimmerglass Festival, 2017) and a new evening-length piece, with music by John Glover, for Del Sol Quartet and Jesse Blumberg. Kelley is resident dramaturg for both The Glimmerglass Festival and Washington National Opera.

About the Music


The Secret Gardener (1775)(La finta giardiniera)

About this production

Created by New York City’s On Site Opera — a company devoted to producing opera productions designed specifically for the unusual places where they will be staged — tonight’s production of La finta giardiniera has been arranged to last ninety minutes without intermission, rather than the more than three hours of Mozart’s unabridged original. In an English translation by Kelley Rourke, it will use spoken dialogue rather than recitative, just as did Mozart’s German-language singspiel version of 1779. Mozart wrote La finta’s score for a a small orchestra of 23 players. This production will use a specially commissioned arrangement by Yoni Kahn and Thomas Carroll for an ensemble of nine players: woodwinds and brass, plus double bass. This is exactly the type of wind-based ensemble, known as a harmonie, that Mozart chose frequently for music for outdoor garden parties.

About The Composer

As Mozart emerged from his golden period of being Europe’s most celebrated musical child, he experienced a rather troubled and frustrating adolescence and young adulthood. Already the promise of his mature works was shining through in his music, but the opportunities to spread his wings continually eluded him. His opera Lucio Silla, premiered in Milan when he was only 16, was a significant success, but he was never invited back to write another opera for Italy. Instead, he was marooned at the Salzburg court of Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo, where he was little appreciated, his genius stifled.

Already Mozart felt passionately drawn to the world of opera. The opportunity to create music that turned stock stage characters into fully rounded human beings with all their emotions revealed fascinated him. In a letter about this time, he wrote: “I have an inexpressible desire to write another opera … I only need to be in the theater, to hear voices, and I am quite beside myself.” But the Salzburg court had no use for operas.

An opportunity finally came in the autumn of 1774, when the Munich Court Theater in nearby Bavaria commissioned the 18-year-old to write a buffa or comic opera in Italian for its pre-Lenten theatrical season at the beginning of 1775. However, Mozart was not even allowed to pick his own libretto but was instead assigned one — by an author whose identity is unclear today — that had already been set by the Italian composer Pasquale Anfossi for performances in Rome in 1773.

La finta giardiniera (The Secret — or more literally, “Pretended” — Gardener) was a crazy, typically Italian buffa plot of tormented lovers and concealed identities, but Mozart threw himself into the assignment with enthusiasm. It was premiered in Munich on January 13, 1775 and seems to have been quite a success with its first audiences. Mozart wrote to his father: “Thank God! My opera … turned out so well that it is impossible for me to describe the noise to Mamma. … After each aria there was the most frightening noise with clapping and shouts of ‘Viva Maestro!’”

Sadly, after only three performances, the opera was never performed again at Munich. In 1779, a German troupe approached Mozart to revise it into a German-language singspiel (with spoken dialogue), and in that form, it was performed a number of times during his lifetime. However, La finta had to wait until the late-20th century to be rediscovered and fully embraced.

Opera Buffa Or Dramma Giocoso?

Although Mozart was assigned a comic opera libretto, he brought far more depth and complexity — as well as sheer musical genius and imagination — to this sometimes nonsensical story than one finds in typical Italian buffa operas of the period. In fact, La finta belongs more to the dramma giocoso genre — or mixture of serious and comic elements — that Mozart would later exploit magnificently in Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte. And because of the greater range of emotions involved, dramma giocoso demanded a richer, more variegated musical canvass from a composer. In addition, Mozart had to create different kinds of music appropriate to characters in different stations in life. In La finta, we have seven characters, five of whom (Sandrina, Belfiore, Arminda, Ramiro, and the Mayor) come from the upper class and two (Nardo and Serpetta) from the servant class. In Italian opera, the five aristocrats were supposed to be given music in a more elaborate and formal partie serie style while the servants sang in a more comical parte buffe style. As we’ll hear, Mozart’s genius was happily stimulated by the need to encompass all these different types of music.

A Plot Of Love And Jealousy

Abridging the opera, as this production does, helps make La finta’s story somewhat less confusing. Lady Violet and Count Belfiore are in love with each other, but before the opera begins, the two lovers have had a terrible quarrel, and Belfiore believes he has lost Lady Violet forever. In fact, she has disguised herself as the pretty garden maid Sandrina and been employed by the Mayor of another city, who falls in love with her. Sandrina is accompanied by her faithful servant Nardo (whose real name is Robert); he in turn falls for the Mayor’s comely servant Serpetta. The Mayor’s niece, Arminda, has rejected her lover, Ramiro, and when Count Belfiore appears on the scene, she is initially attracted to him.Belfiore, thinking he has lost his fiancée, woos her. The emotional turmoil and the comical misunderstandings of all these attachments fuel La finta giardiniera’s topsy-turvy plot.

A Deeper Listen

La finta’s opening ensemble, “Here in the Garden,” vividly introduces us to five of the seven characters and their very different dilemmas as the story begins. Though they jointly claim to be happy, their individual solos show this is in fact far from the case. Mozart possessed a special gift for creating music that revealed his characters as distinct individuals, and here he deftly creates capsule portraits of Podesta, Sandrina, Ramiro, and the servants Nardo and Serpetta, while managing to weave everything together into an attractive musical whole.

In this introduction, Mozart places lovely emphasis on his heroine, Sandrina. Clearly, he is totally sympathetic to her — and also intrigued by the complexities of her role-playing situation, which will give him wonderfully varied musical challenges throughout. Three of her arias stand out among the score’s highlights. First we will hear “A Woman’s Work is Never Done,” a simple but utterly charming aria in which she is adopting her servant masquerade rather than her true character as the noble Lady Violet. It is filled with garden imagery of bees and flowers and sung in the straightforward style of the servant class.

The basso Nardo is clearly a forerunner of later Mozart servants like Figaro and Leporello. With Serpetta constantly resisting his advances, he is at the outset fed up with women and their hard hearts. His “The Tapping of a Hammer,” with its omnipresent pounding theme in the instruments, is a brilliant, wryly comic aria that sharply characterizes this proud, intelligent man.

Later after Count Belfiore has appeared and once again threatened to break her heart, Sandrina reveals her real, suffering self in the exquisite aria “Listen, the Dove is Sighing.” The conventional 18th-century imagery of the mourning turtledove is here transfigured by the ravishingly beautiful instrumental melody and the soprano’s delicate, birdlike coloratura. This is an early example of those sublime moments in Mozart’s operas in which time suddenly comes to a mesmerizing halt.

Devastated by Belfiore’s wooing of Arminda and then trying to win her again, Sandrina now becomes temporarily a tragic figure. Mozart gives her a powerful, agitated aria in C minor, “Belfiore! … He found me!,” in which she expresses her anguish and despair. (In the unabridged opera, this is the opening of a lengthy double-aria “mad scene.”) This dark, conflicted piece is one of the opera’s greatest.

In the following aria, “Please, Hear Me Out!,” the volatile Belfiore has a virtual mad scene of his own — so exaggerated it borders on comedy. It is only at the end of the opera that Mozart’s music will demonstrate sympathy for Belfiore matching what he obviously feels for Sandrina.

Mozart’s gift for sly comedy is on full display in “When it Comes to Love and Passion,” Nardo’s efforts to woo Serpetta in three different languages: Italian, French, and English. Who could resist this clever macaronic song, whose musical style keeps shifting artfully to match the language being used!

Almost equally charming is Serpetta’s response, “The Secret to Contentment.” This ever-practical servant promptly decides that Nardo might actually be the right man for her and closes her down-to-earth advice with a merry little dance. Clearly, she is a cousin to Mozart’s Despina.

One of La Finta’s most magnificent arias follows: Ramiro’s “Hope is My Sweet Companion.” Armida’s rejection has made him suffer, but he refuses to give up hope of winning her in the end. The smoothly flowing legato lines of this beautiful, consoling aria reveal Mozart’s melodic genius already in full bloom at age 18.

Ramiro’s erstwhile lover Arminda has seen Belfiore’s true colors as he wavers between Sandrina and herself. In the frenzied G-minor aria “My Eyes Behold a Traitor,” she expresses her fury.

This aria has all the musical characteristics of a rage or vengeance aria in a 18th-century opera seria. Though here it may be intended as a comic parody, Mozart’s forceful aria does not underplay Arminda’s anger.

In the opera’s final duet, “Oh my Love, do not forsake me,” Sandrina and Belfiore are finally reconciled and pledge to be faithful to each other. As this multi-sectional number progresses, each new episode increases in tempo. The opening Adagio section in which Belfiore pleads for forgiveness and Sandrina continues to reject him is deeply moving; here the fickle Belfiore finally becomes believably sincere. Their inability to leave each other’s presence is treated comically, and a beautiful Andantino section describes their weakening resistance. Finally, all doubts vanquished, their voices unite in a joyous Allegro.

With La finta’s many conflicts finally resolved, all that is needed now is a brief, high-spirited chorus in praise of the Garden Girl’s constancy and courage, which — we hope! — has at last won her happiness.

— Janet E. Bedell