Opera fans in Columbia will be happy to know that the University of South Carolina will be performing Mozart’s “La Finta Giardiniera.”
Those who aren’t opera fans might be thinking, “huh?”
Even if you haven’t attended an opera before, don’t dismiss this opportunity. This opera comedy is a great choice for first-time opera attendees, as well as seasoned fans.
“‘La Finta Giardiniera’ is a wonderful first opera,” says director David C. Toulson. “The story is very accessible, and the opera is a comedy involving multiple love triangles and finding true love.”
The opera is set in and around a 1920s Hollywood movie studio.
A double love triangle, murder, disguise, romance and jealousy set the pace for the farcical opera and proves anything can happen in the early days of Hollywood, and in a Mozart opera.
The story focuses on a formerly engaged aristocratic couple finding their way back to each other. They must overcome their past troubles while trying to free themselves from the jealousies and intrigues of their current romantic entanglements.
Toulson, a USC alumnus, returns to his alma mater as a guest director. He is the resident stage director at the Miami Music Festival, where this past summer, he directed Leoš Janáček’s “Cunning Little Vixen,” Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking,” and Act 1 of Wagner’s “Die Walküre,” to much critical acclaim. At the conclusion of this production, Toulson will join the staging staff at the Lyric Opera of Chicago for productions of “Turandot” by Puccini and “Così fan tutte” by Mozart.
We asked Toulson to tell us about “La Finta Giardiniera” and a bit about opera as well:
Q: The opera is being sung in Italian: Will audience members who don’t speak Italian be able to follow the story?
A: Audiences will absolutely be able to understand the show. We project translations, called supertitles, over the stage so audiences can easily follow along with the action. In fact, I have written the translations myself to make sure they accurately represent what is happening on stage.
Q: What would you say to someone who has never been to an opera, to convince them they would enjoy “La Finta Giardiniera?”
A: I have taken this show and updated it to the 1920s Hollywood to give it a fun and zany setting. I think the simplest description of what this opera will be like is that it is a musical sitcom composed by one of the greatest composers of all time.
Q: Is comic opera unusual? What are the challenges of performing Mozart and singing an opera combined with comedy?
A: Although comedy may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about opera, comic operas are quite common, especially around the time of Mozart.
The hardest thing about staging a comedy, whether it be Italian opera, a musical, or even a sitcom is timing. Fortunately, Mozart’s sense of humor is apparent in this composition which makes the comedic elements easier to time.
Q: How difficult is it for the performers to sing in Italian - especially the ones who don’t speak Italian?
A: The Italian language and opera go hand in hand. For some of the cast, the language is new, but others have experience singing in it. The singers spend many hours working with a vocal coach who guides them in the subtleties of the language and the music.
The larger challenge is for them to sing the Italian in recitative style, which is a hybrid form of speaking and singing that connects the arias and other musical numbers. Recitative style communicates much of the opera’s plot, and as a result, there are a lot of words in a short amount of time.
And because of the freer musical style, singing recitative requires a greater understanding of the language. We have spent much time in rehearsals working the recitatives to make sure we are properly telling the story.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say about USC’s production of “La Finta Giardiniera?”
A: One of the amazing features of opera in general is that it is a live performance. Even though we rehearse so that we are consistent, every performance is a unique once-in-a-lifetime event that will never be exactly recreated.
I encourage everyone to come out for a fun evening of unfiltered entertainment that will unfold before them.
If you go
Mozart’s “La Finta Giardiniera”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3, and Saturday, Nov. 4; 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5.
WHERE: USC’s Drayton Hall Theatre, 1214 College St.
TICKETS: $25, adults; $20, seniors, USC faculty and staff, and military; $7, students with ID. Available online at sc.edu/music/opera, call 803-777-5369, or purchase at the door. Online and phone sales end at 3 p.m. Friday.
CREDITS: David Carl Toulson, director; Neil Casey, conductor; Lynn Kompass, musical preparation.