The opera is in three acts, and has only seven characters — though to begin, one of them has two identities. She's the title character, La Finta Giardiniera, or "The Phony Gardener" — and that's just what she is. As ACT ONE begins, her name is Sandrina, and she's working as a gardener for the mayor of a small town.
Bernd Uhlig /Courtesy of La Monnaie
A scene from 'La Finta Giardiniera' at La Monaie, March 13 2011.
A scene from 'La Finta Giardiniera' at La Monaie, March 13 2011. Bernd Uhlig /Courtesy of La Monnaie
Sandrina's real name is Violante. She's a noblewoman who left home after an ex-lover, Count Belfiore, tried to stab her. The authorities think Belfiore actually killed Violante, so they're hot on his trail — and strange as it might be, she seems determined to find him as well.
The mayor "Sandrina" is working for has a niece named Arminda. She's about to marry a count, but nobody seems sure exactly who this supposed count really is. The local poet Ramiro is unhappy about the engagement, because he's in love with Arminda. Meanwhile, the mayor is falling for Sandrina, and another servant, Serpetta, is being courted by a guy called Nardo, Sandrina's assistant. But he's in disguise, too — he's actually Roberto, Sandrina's personal servant from her days as a noblewoman.
It takes some time to introduce all the characters, and to get the various romances sorted out. Things get even more snarled when Arminda's fiancé, the count, shows up. Naturally, he turns out to be Belfiore, Sandrina's old boyfriend. But when he recognizes her as Violante, she denies her real identity. The act ends in general confusion — but it's plain that despite his engagement to Arminda, Belfiore still carries a torch for his former lover.
Sandrine Piau .................. Violante
Jeremy Ovenden ............... Belfiore
Henriette Bonde-Hansen .... Arminda
Stella Doufexis .................. Ramiro
Katarina Knezikova ........... Serpetta
Adam Plachetka .................. Nardo
Jeffrey Francis .............. The Mayor
La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra
John Nelson, conductor
At the start of ACT TWO, Sandrina still refuses to acknowledge that she is actually Violante, when a warrant arrives charging Belfiore with Violante's murder. At that, Sandrina admits her identity and saves him from arrest. Naturally, this convinces Belfiore that she still loves him — which is what he's been hoping all along. But then, Sandrina takes it all back, telling him that she really isn't Violante. She just said she was to get him out of a jam. Belfiore is beside himself, and begins to show signs of madness.
Meanwhile, Arminda is becoming annoyed with Sandrina. She still wants to marry Belfiore, and thanks to Sandrina, the man now seems a little bit nuts. So Arminda and Serpetta take the troublesome Sandrina into the forest at night, and ditch her. When Nardo goes off to rescue Sandrina, the other characters follow him.
Before long, they're all bumping into each other in the dark, and Belfiore and Sandrina both seem to be going crazy. The act ends with an ensemble finale and double mad scene, all rolled up into one.
By ACT THREE Sandrina and Belfiore have come to their senses, and realize that they're still in love. This amazes just about everybody: the mayor, whose gardener turns out to be a noblewoman in disguise; Arminda, who was about to marry Belfiore; and both the poet Ramiro and the chambermaid Serpetta, who still don't seem to know quite what's going on. The one person who actually may understand the situation is Roberto, Sandrina's servant — though even he was pretending to be someone else, and now finds himself smitten with Serpetta.
Yet, with Sandrina back to being Violante — and back together with Belfiore — the way is paved for a happy ending. Ramiro has always been in love with Arminda, who now decides that a poet just might make a better lover than a count. Serpetta falls for Roberto, who's probably out of a job anyway, with Violante about to be off with Belfiore. So, when it all shakes out, love has won the day. The only one out in the cold is the Mayor himself, who decides he'd better start looking — for a new gardener.