A regal count in classical dress swaggers onto stage, posing in a floral archway. He smugly smirks, slyly adjusting the shades on his head, framed with a powdered wig — a comedy of farcical love is underway at the Musical Arts Center.
The Jacobs School of Music will present this opera with two different casts at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20-21 at the Musical Arts Center.
“La Finta Giardiniera” is an Italian opera by Mozart. One of his earlier works, the opera follows a series of couples who undergo a series of comedic misunderstandings in their attempts to find love — despite some of that love being unrequited.
Kate Johnson, IU performance diploma program enrollee, plays Marchioness Violante Onesti disguised as a gardener, Sandrina, in one of the casts. As she rehearsed for the production, Johnson found herself taken in by the music, citing one of Violante’s arias, “Geme la Tortorella,” as one of the more recognizable pieces from the overall stunning score.
“All the music in ‘Finta’ is remarkably beautiful, memorable, and dramatically rich and exciting,” Johnson said.
Familiar with Mozart’s work, having performed as Zerlina in UNL’s production of “Don Giovanni” and Susanna in “Le Nozze di Figaro,” Johnson was prepared for the technically complex compositions Mozart was known for. However, she was delightfully surprised to find that this composition was different.
“As I prepared for my role in this early Mozart opera, it was fascinating to discover some unexpected harmonic progressions compared to his later works,” Johnson said.
IU doctoral student Brad Lieto plays the town Podestà in one of the casts. The Podestà, in old Italian culture, acts as the town’s magistrate and oversees the people. Also no stranger to performing Mozart, having previously sung in “Cosi fan tutte,” Lieto found that his familiarity with the compositions of Mozart helped him find whole new layers of humor to the opera.
“A lot of what he means is found in the text; there’s a whole viola joke in one of my songs and it’s completely hidden,” Lieto said. “You wouldn’t know it. You’d think ‘Oh he’s just singing about the orchestra.’”
In the opera, the town Podestà finds himself in love with the gardener Sandrina, unaware of her true identity. Flirting shamelessly with various women throughout the opening number, the Podestà revels in his status and all it offers him. Lieto depicted a comical level of shock when his character finds himself unable to woo Sandrina.
“He’s not used to not having what he wants,” Lieto said. “So, his energy sometimes gets carried away from him at different points in the show.”
“La Finta Giardiniera,” is a highly comedic piece, which Lieto found to be his favorite part of rehearsing. He recalled the Maestro telling the cast to “make him laugh,” and he then realized what made this humorous piece from the 18th century so relevant to the 21st century.
“In today’s world, any chance I get to laugh, I’m going to take it,” Lieto said. “Nobody dies, people get married, it’s quite lovely in that regard.”