Modern Baroque Opera 

The Garden
by Baldessare Galluppi
Libretto by Carlo Goldoni
Adaptation by Ernanno Wolf-Ferrari
Translated by Kate Hutchinson

Dates: 30 September - 4 October 2003
Venue: Vancouver East Cultural Centre 

Reviewer: Elizabeth Paterson


Director  Kate Hutchinson Music director Marguerite Witvoet  Designer Andrea Hiestand  Lighting designer Itai Erdal 


Modern Baroque Opera has put its hand into the lucky dip of opera buffa and pulled out a plum in The Garden, a pruned version of the 18th century opera Il filosofo du Campagna  (The Country Sage)

In the mid 1700s, Galuppi, one of the most successful composers in Venice, was introduced to Carlo Goldoni and between them they invented opera buffa and brought comedy into the opera house.  Il Filosofo di Campagna, their greatest hit, was revised by Ernanno Wolf-Ferrari and now Kate Hutchinson has made a new translation of the recitatives into clever thyming couplets and orchestrated the work for harpsichord and string quartet.

The plot is standard commedia del´arte fare - an arranged marriage threatens to thwart true love between the beautiful daughter and the aristo next door.  The clever lower classes arrange a happy ending for all except cantankerous old dad.  The need for deceipt, deception and fast talk engenders lots of comic action.
Kate Hutchinson´s direction  seizes every comic opportunity and had the audience rolling in the aisles by the end of the first act.  Her most inspired effect was in her method of translation for the Italian arias.  The stage at the VECC offers no place for sur-titles and so they appeared in the most unexpected places, written on the laundry hung out to dry, on handkerchieves  pulled from sleeves and bosoms, even on the leaves of a head of chicory, dismembered leaf by leaf as it was sung line by line.



As the opera wore on this device and other bits of funny business, wore out a little, but only enough to blur the pleasure of the evening.

Phoebe MacRae was deliciously funny as the quick-witted servant Lesbina.  Her voice is true and clear and her comic timing impeccable.  Camille Hesketh, Eugenia, indulged gently in romantic pathos.  Shaun Phillips as Rinaldo, the noble young lover, was priceless, delicately placing lacy handkerchieves on the ground to keep his feet clean of rural contamination.

Lawrence Cotton also sang and acted well. Baritone Jeffrey Carl as Nardo the wealthy farmer sang with controlled subtlety matched with a warm and beautiful tone - a highlight of the evening.

The set in this production is an equal player in the drama. A rampant bean stalk frames the acting area and provides giant leaves for writing whole stanzas of sur-titles. Like the work it is larger than life and full of gesture. However, the stage itself is a plot of real garden earth, a realistic touch in this baroque and artificial world. You might say it grounds the production.

The Garden runs at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre from 30 September to 4 October at 8:00 o'clock.

© 2003, Elizabeth Paterson