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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
La finta semplice - Opera in three acts, K 51 (1768)
Helen Donath (soprano) – Rosina; Robert Holl (bass) – Don Cassandro; Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor) – Don Polidoro; Teresa Berganza (mezzo) – Giacinta; Jutta-Renate Ihloff (soprano) – Ninetta; Thomas Moser (tenor) – Fracasso; Robert Lloyd (bass) – Simone; Mozarteumorchester Salzburg/Leopold Hager
rec. 16-20 January 1983, Mozarteum, Salzburg
Libretto available on line.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94374 [3 CDs: 73:03 + 59:28 + 33:23]

La finta semplice was not Mozart’s first opera but it was his first in Italian. It was followed by another half dozen works, composed when he still was in his teens. La finta became a disappointment for the Mozarts, since it wasn’t performed at the Imperial Opera in Vienna, as they had hoped; Leopold had set his 12-year-old son to work on it without having a written contract. It was instead played in Salzburg a year later.
 
The libretto is no literary masterpiece and the music is fluent and agreeable but only in a few places are there signs of the operatic genius to be. Sung by excellent singers, as here, it is entertaining; we don’t need to bother about the plot, just sit back and enjoy. There are quite long recitatives here and there but they are separately banded and easy to avoid. Besides the arias there are also rather extended finales to each act and in act II there is also a duet. The places where we have reason to prick up our ears are in the first act. Cassandro’s aria Ella vuole ed io vorrei (CD 1 tr. 17) is dramatic but with comic elements as well. Here the orchestra is expressive and points forward to the mature Mozart – still an embryo but with hindsight one anticipates something out of the ordinary. Rosina’s big aria that follows Senti l’eco, ove t’aggiri (CD 1 tr. 19) is also something more than just surface with numerous woodwind obbligatos. The first finale (CD 1 tr. 23) also promises well.
 
Leopold Hager conducted several early Mozart operas for DG back in the 1970s – later included in the complete Philips series but there it was Peter Schreier who conducted La finta semplice. Hager got a later opportunity when Orfeo made this recording in 1983 and it is good to have it back. The Schreier issue is well sung but overall Hager’s cast is preferable. Helen Donath is her usual bright-toned and fluent self and she has a fine trill; Teresa Berganza is lovely too, nuanced as always and still in creamy voice. Light and springy, even more delectable is Jutta-Renate Ihloff in the soubrette role, Ninetta. Her every appearance is a high-spot. Just listen to her in the aria Sono in amore (CD 3 tr. 3). Of the men Anthony Rolfe Johnson is good but rather anonymous, while Thomas Moser is more positive. He was to develop into a dramatic tenor with roles like Radames and Tristan. The steel in the voice for those parts is noticeable here too, in particular in the dramatic and long Nelle guerre d’amore (CD 3 tr. 6). Robert Lloyd is authoritative and imposing, perhaps too much so, considering the slightness of the work. Robert Holl is lighter of tone and at this stage of his career a true bel canto bass. The orchestra play well but at times I wish Leopold Hager would have whipped up the tension a little. It’s all a bit laid-back.
 
La finta semplice is no great opera but everyone who loves Mozart’s melodies – and who doesn’t? – will find a lot to enjoy.
 
Göran Forsling

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