Nardo loves Serpetta, who loves the Podestà (the Mayor), who loves Sandrina, who is really Violante disguised as a gardener (i.e. the title role) and loves Belfiore for reasons that are not clear since, before curtain, he stabbed her and left her for dead. Belfiore is engaged to Arminda, who rejects the love of Ramiro. By the time Violante and Belfiore have concluded that they are really Venus and Hercules, Nardo can only shrug his shoulders and exclaim that "Ohimè, gli dura ancora la pazzia" (Alas, this insanity continues). We in the audience can do nothing but agree.

Hanna Hipp as Ramiro  & Eleonore Marguerre as Arminda © Richard Hubert Smith
Hanna Hipp as Ramiro & Eleonore Marguerre as Arminda
© Richard Hubert Smith

Mozart wrote La finta giardiniera at the tender age of 18 from a libretto based on a play by Carlo Goldoni (the author of the original of One man, Two Guvnors). You can already see the madcap style that would reach its apogee in Le nozze di Figaro, and you can hear Mozart's wicked sense of humour early on as the Podestà complains that this mayhem is like the cacophony of an orchestra in his brain, the text describing each part of the orchestra as Mozart brings it to the forefront of the accompaniment.

This performance was the home base kick-off for Glyndebourne on Tour, so Antony McDonald's sets are straightforward, tour-capable and beautifully executed: we are looking at a simple painted framework of a Baroque building, perhaps a giant conservatory, in which all the action happens. At the height of the madness, the whole cast starts to do crazy things with sets and furniture which I won't spoil – but which are totally hilarious. Costumes are luxurious and of Mozart's period, with everyone in voluminous numbers of layers. At some point in the action just about every one of the seven cast members starts to take their clothes off – although the number of layers is so great that however many they remove, there always seem to be plenty left underneath.

Which all adds to the fun, given that all seven of the cast are youthful, attractive, vibey and being directed with gusto by Frederic Wake-Walker. Eliana Pretorian gets the lion's share of the visual gags as the soubrette Serpetta, but Timothy Robinson gets plenty of opportunity for fun as the stock Commedia dell'Arte foolish old man, and generally, the limelight is generously spread across the whole cast. Wake-Walker is particularly impressive for the way he melds the stage movement and the visual gags into the structure of the da capo arias, making the most of the opportunity to do something funny at the point where the middle section ends and the music section flips back to the start.

Hanna Hipp as Ramiro © Richard Hubert Smith
Hanna Hipp as Ramiro
© Richard Hubert Smith
Christopher Moulds conducts the orchestra with poise, elegance and, as the evening wears on, an increasingly frantic pace, always perfectly balanced with his singers, all of whose vocal qualities can't be faulted. I'll single out Mattia Olivieri as Nardo for a gloriously resonant bass timbre; in the title role, Rosa Feola gets the most opportunity for the meltingly smooth romantic stuff, while Eleonore Marguerre sings with more of an edge in her voice – in keeping with her character as the shrewish Arminda, who makes it clear from the beginning that she isn't going to be a pushover for the man who wins her.

A mention, too, for Amanda Holden's excellent surtitles, which eschew literal translation in favour of being current, pithy and amusing, but which never stray too far from the Italian and never sound stilted or awkwardly anachronistic.

Mozart's music has many of the qualities that distinguish his later, more famous operas: grace, feathery lightness, subtlety of mood switching and an unerring ability to create a melodic line that will fit beautifully into a singing voice. But there are two key things in which this opera fails short of his greatest works. The first is that it's very conventional in structure: we have a clear sequence of recitative, da capo aria (or sometimes ensemble from duet to quintet), rinse, repeat. The second is that La finta giardiniera never gives us those moments of sublime transcendence that can lift one out of the generally pleasant experience of hearing an opera into a higher emotional plane.

Eleonore Marguerre, Enea Scala, Elina Pretorian & Timothy Robinson © Richard Hubert Smith
Eleonore Marguerre, Enea Scala, Elina Pretorian & Timothy Robinson
© Richard Hubert Smith

La finta giardiniera isn't one of Mozart's greatest operas, and it's completely fair that it takes a back seat behind the da Ponte trilogy and Die Zauberflöte. But this is about as good a production of it as I can imagine and makes for a deliciously light-hearted evening. Don't expect to take it too seriously – but do see it and join in the fun.