Glyndebourne and Mozart go together rather like, well Glyndebourne and Champagne, Glyndebourne and strawberries or Glyndebourne and a candelabra on the lawn.
One of the last Festival productions - La finta Giardiniera (the false garden girl) - was written by Mozart when he was 18 and premiered in Munich in January 1775 - two weeks before his 19th birthday.
It is a triumph – for a finely balanced cast; for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment sensitively conducted by Robin Ticciati and for the appreciative Festival audience. It is being resurrected for the Glyndebourne tour (October onwards) and because the libretto aims to restore our faith in love – persuade someone who loves you to buy you a ticket.
This first ever Glyndebourne staging of La finta is restfully and delightfully set in a crumbling, stuccoed palazzo – a setting which makes some previous Festival productions - the cardboard box leaking blood (Macbeth;) supersized furniture (L’enfant et le sortilege) and a forest of giant broccoli (Hippolyte et Aricie) seem almost over the top.
But don’t be deceived. Designer Antony McDonald still has some cunning tricks up his sleeve – look out for a few Phantom of the Opera moments in act two.
The story is almost too complex to describe in a review – needless to say it concerns falling in love with the wrong people of the wrong class,a failed murder, several disguises, madness and forest nymphs. But as an opera buffa, it is laugh-out-loud funny, thanks in part to the robust comic acting of Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Il Podesta, the Mayor of Lagonero. I saw him as the witch in Hansel and Gretel and his style, sublimely buttery tenor and charisma dominate the stage. At one point the mayor strips down to a pair of fetching, black neoprene budgie-smugglers. But underpants apart, the close fit of each member of the seven strong cast to his or her role is as close as a surgeon’s glove. It’s hard to single any out – soprano Christiane Karg played Sandrina, the principal female lead with gritty heroism. I only found out later she had seriously damaged her leg when she fell from the stage during last week’s performance. Bouquets too to Gyula Orendt who deserves an Elia Kazan Actor’s Studio medallion for his impassioned act three aria (‘All of us who pursue women are mad’) and received a standing ovation. The women are strong and feisty, particularly tough Serpetta (Nicole Heaston) who threatens to beat any bridegroom who falls short of her strict requirements. Rachel Frenkel turns in a bravura performance as Ramiro and there is a moving moment in act two when she appears with a light to chase away the darkness obscuring our hero Belfiore (Joel Prieto) and the glorious Sandrina.
We are so extraordinarily lucky to have glorious Glyndebourne in Sussex. It is our Lords, our Hampden Park, our Millennium Stadium – a place where a few gilded individuals perform for the joy of the rest of us.
Every time I am lucky enough to go I see true opera lovers. So some of the DJs have slightly curling lapels and evening dresses probably came from Marshal and Snelgrove, but I know they are worn by aficionados, not the kind of corporate hedge-funders who couldn’t even be bothered to re-take their seats on the Centre Court.