Jealousy, yearning, cunning plans and gumboots are in store in the latest workshop opera from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. 

Combining singers, musicians and staff, the Conservatorium put together a clean, fun piece of theatre ideal for showcasing the stJars of tomorrow. This time they chose La Finta Giardiniera or ‘The disguised gardener’. This was a very early opera written by Mozart when he was 18 years old  as a commission for the Munich Carnival 1775. Originally with an Italian libretto, Mozart changed it a few years later to German. The original Italian version was re-discovered 200 years later in the 1970’s. An abridged version of the Italian original has been used this production.

In the time of Mozart, one of the most popular evenings of entertainment could be found at the Opera Buffa, a comic farce filled with disguises, revenge and love triangles to keep the masses guessing, though, with everyone knowing full well it would close with a happy ending.  La Finta Giardiniera centres around the Marchioness Violante whose lover Contino Belfiore has left in a rage. The Marchioness, along with her loyal servant Roberto disguise themselves as gardeners named Sandrina and Nardo respectively, then head off to see if they can find him. They discover he is now engaged to a control freak Arminda, niece of the Mayor Podestà who has taken a liking to Sandrina. Nardo has found a love interest in the Mayor’s servant Serpetta who really prefers the Mayor. Oh yes, you can see how confusing this is going to get.

Set against a flat painted backdrop with a pastorale scene riddled with windows and door. Director Isabella Andronos worked with Designer Elsie Edgerton-Till to create a deliberately “false” set to match the falsities of the characters while the exposed lighting rigs on each side of the stage represented the exposing of their true feelings. 

From the beginning the characters are already on stage as the audience settled in. There was some confusion as the doors opened in the pit to allow the musicians to enter with a raucous amount of noise coming from behind the doors. Not sure if this was intentional but it seemed a strange contrast in casual attitude compared to the performers already in character. However, once the music started the action began with an hilarious choreographed scene showing the prologue in mime with the audience already laughing.

Costumes were delightfully light and colourful with very little black or grey and makeup was clown like to emphasise the farce. All three male singers showed excellent comic skills. Joseph Raso as Podesta the Mayor fully threw himself in to the character offering a lively performance, Henry Wright as Nardo showed lovely connection with his fellow performers and Gavin Brown as Belfiore stood out in his physical theatre skills – a lovely mover and ideal for the role. Our females were well balanced and cast as well. Gabrielle Penney as the Marchioness/Sandrina has a great voice with an elegant way of moving.

Georgia Melville as the fierce Arminda offered powerful, highly competent singing and kept a solid character which only dwindled in consistency a little at the end. Ellen McNeil as the servant Serpetta showed great clarity of understanding her character, highlighted particularly well in her aria “Chi vuol godere il mondo”. Sandra Liu as Arminda’s jilted lover Ramiro showed excellent musicality though, as mezzo’s are so often given trouser roles once they move into the professional world, we would have loved to see her further develop her masculine moves and postures to make a more believable male character.

Major strength for this cast was their generous camaraderie. They work very well together and look like they are clearly enjoying themselves. Director Elsie Edgerton-Till did a great job in keeping the action clean cut which helped the audience navigate around such a confusing plot. Musical Director Dr Stephen Mould was a strong lead for the orchestra and cues for the cast. At times the music ran faster than the cast could sing which is bound to improve as the season continues. All in all, a great fun production and wonderful preview of tomorrows professionals in the Opera world.

More performances at the Sydney Conservatorium: 


Sandrina – Gabrielle Penney

Arminda – Georgia Melville

Serpetta – Ellen McNeill

Ramiro – Sandra Liu Xin Zei

Podesta – Joseph Raso

Il contino Belfiore – Gavin Brown

Nardo – Henry Wright


Musical Director – Dr Stephen Mould

Director – Elsie Edgerton-Till

Prod Manager – Thomas Wde

Designer – Isabelle Andronos

Lighting – Martin Kinnane

Hair and Makeup – Rachael del Santo