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How much of a comedy is ‘La finta’
for a modern audience?
The Italian version of comic opera – or opera buffa – was partly descended from an
enormously popular form of travelling entertainment called commedia dell’arte (which
translates roughly as ‘comedy for working folk’) that stretches back to the 16th century.
Whilst richer people could go to elegant theatres or concert-halls, ordinary people
would watch the troupes of commedia dell’arte performers when they visited their
village, perhaps sitting outdoors in the square. The humour could be quite
bawdy and audiences would join in noisily; the atmosphere probably
felt a bit like a rather cheeky pantomime for adults.
These plays with songs used to poke fun at people in
authority, both local and national figures (just like modern
comedians do!) and a favourite storyline would have a
cunning servant getting the better of their master or
mistress. Other favourites were swindling merchants,
lecherous old men and, of course, a pair of young lovers.
Audiences used to look forward to seeing the same
stereotyped characters reappearing in different plays; they
were mostly ridiculous and you wouldn’t be expected to
take them seriously. Even in a much later opera buffa like La
finta, you can still see the descendants of these characters.
HOWEVER, part of Mozart’s genius is that his music makes us believe
in his characters as real human-beings with real feelings. It’s not always easy
to dismiss them as silly, comical creations. That can be a problem, as some of the
characters may have had experiences that are far from funny, especially in the eyes of a
modern audience.
How much of a comedy is ‘La finta’ for a modern audience? 1/3
In particular, La finta giardiniera has Violante (disguised as Sandrina), who was
assaulted, stabbed and left for dead before the story even begins. Despite this, she still
loves the jealous man who stabbed her and ends up marrying him. This sounds like a
very serious plotline about abuse from a modern soap-opera, but in this opera it is the
starting-point for a sparkling comedy.
On top of this, in Act 2 poor Sandrina also gets kidnapped (by a jealous woman this
time) and abandoned to be killed by wild animals. Not surprisingly, she loses her sanity
with the stress of it all. All the other characters too are tortured by being in love with
someone who ignores or is nasty to them.
TASK 1 (Discussion)
Discuss how we should deal with all this as a modern audience
• To what extent should we overlook the violence that Violante experienced for the
sake of enjoying the opera as a comedy? How satisfactory do you think it is for
Violante and Count Belfiore to end up together?
• The last words of the opera praise Violante for being faithful to Count Belfiore (the
jealous man who nearly killed her and left her for dead) – what do you think about
that as a summary of Violante’s character and experiences? Do you think Mozart
and his contemporaries would have felt the same, or have times changed in this
• What about the less serious sad feelings in the opera, especially all the frustrated
lovers who become upset, desperate, angry or vengeful at different times? These
are feelings nearly everyone will experience in life, as they look for their ideal
partner. How do you think putting those feelings into a comedy might be useful
for us as an audience? How do you think hearing those strong emotions being
portrayed in Mozart’s music might help us?
How much of a comedy is ‘La finta’ for a modern audience? 2/3
TASK 2 (Discussion)
After you have watched the opera, come back to this discussion
All these questions are really important for the Glyndebourne director and designers
who decide how the opera should be staged. Put yourself in the position of a critic
writing a review for a newspaper and discuss how the production team have tried to
solve these issues. Do you think their solutions worked in the performance? Did they
solve the issues, change them, or maybe even exaggerate them? Which characters did
you find yourself sympathising with most and why?
If you want to try out a really different kind of persuasive writing as an
English task, try reading some newspaper reviews of different operas (you can find
loads online) to give you a sense of the style, and then draft your own review of
La finta, based on the thoughts from the class discussion.
How much of a comedy is ‘La finta’ for a modern audience? 3/3