BWW Review: Mozart's GARDENER Is On Site Opera's SECRET Weapon

BWW Review: Mozart's GARDENER Is On Site Opera's SECRET Weapon
Alisa Jordheim and Jorell Williams

It had a great score but an unmanageable book. So the director had it reshaped, cut and done in a creative environmental production that sent the singers scampering throughout the audience. No, I'm not talking about Hal Prince's famous reinvention of Leonard Bernstein's CANDIDE, but On Site Opera's (OSO) charming new take on Mozart's THE SECRET GARDENER (LA FINTA GIARDINIERA), remodeled in coproduction with the Atlanta Opera and done in a garden on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (It travels next week to Atlanta's Botanical Gardens).

The opera was written when Mozart was just 18, though he already had plenty of work, including operas, under his belt by then--and he hadn't met librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, who would help shape three of his most famous operas, LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, COSI FAN TUTTE and DON GIOVANNI. The result was a charming little work, showing us seven people dealing with love and relationships in different ways, that was blown up like one of the balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, nearly four hours long.

BWW Review: Mozart's GARDENER Is On Site Opera's SECRET WeaponStill, when the Atlanta Opera's General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun came to OSO's General Director Eric Einhorn (who would also direct the opera) with the idea of doing the opera as a co-production, they both saw something that said "ready for prime time" in the gorgeous music that hinted at some of the great Mozart to come, despite its bloated libretto. All that was needed was a sharp pair of scissors.

The result: a delightful version (and diversion) in a translation by Kelley Rourke that clocked in at about 90 minutes (no intermission) under Einhorn's sure hand. It was the kind of unique, immersive, site-specific production that is OSO's bread and butter, lit creatively by Shawn K. Kaufman. Add to that a cast of young, talented singers and a perky wind octet (plus bass fiddle), called Grand Harmonie led by Music Director Geoffrey McDonald, and the performance was as airy as a day in spring. Thanks to the Westside Community Garden's placement between two apartment buildings, the acoustics weren't the problem they might have been in a more open space, since it was done without amplification.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.