The Opéra de Rennes ends its 2015/2016 season with a flourish: La Finta Giardiniera, written by an 18-year-old Mozart, is a light comedy that doesn’t take anything seriously, itself least of all. Hardly, that is… Not yet the composer of Don Giovanni, this is already Mozart and no mistake. All the elements are there, the ensemble scenes, the multi-dimensional instrumentation with the wonderful treatment of the winds; there is a kind of proto-Cherubino, and this instinct for theatre and its workings that will later give us our most beloved masterpieces. The libretto is a tad unconvincing: it is based on the idea that a woman can go on loving a man who has tried to kill her and left her for dead. This woman, Violanta, accompanied by her faithful servant Roberto, goes into hiding and becomes a gardener on the domain of Don Anchise. She takes the name of Sandrina, and Roberto becomes Nardo. Don Anchise falls in love with her and wants her to become his wife. Another pretty gardener, Serpetta, wants in her turn to marry him, but Nardo is after her. On the domain, there is also one Don Ramiro, who falls in love with Don Anchise’s niece Arminda. She, however, is supposed to marry the count Belfiore, who is no other but Violanta’s violent lover. Declarations, misunderstandings, appearances, discoveries – all the makings of a comedy are gathered. Mozart being Mozart, the music subtly suggests the dark side of all this merriment. Antony Hermus and the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne illuminate many a lovely detail and carry the comedy with drive, always respecting the singers. Stage director David Lescot treats the libretto with indulgence and irony, basing himself on the music. Every stage movement is directly related to a musical moment. The excellent cast, brilliant singers and actors all of them, follow along with intelligence. Dressed in different shades and styles of white, they inhabit a minimalist and ever-changing set: in front of a grey background, two pretty gardeners keep coming and going, exchanging potted flowers and trees in wooden chests. All of the cast keep the perilous balance between flippancy and seriousness. We feel the joyful abandon with which soprano Marie-Adeline Henry, in the role of the violent Armida decapitates a stream of sunflowers that the gardeners keep bringing, whilst singing a furious aria with total conviction. Sofia Michedlishvili, soprano, is just as remarkable in the part of Sandrina/Violanta : with her soft and crystal-clear voice, dressed in a short white dress and yellow wellingtons, she is the very portrait of innocence. Her cavatina « Geme la tortorella » with its sweet coloraturas, goes right to the heart. Her Belfiore is played by tenor Carlos Natale. Vocally and physically agile, he plays the double comedy very convincingly: his declarations to Arminda are perfectly sentimental and ironic, only with Sandrina he is a sincere and tender lover. Soprano Maria Savastano is Serpetta, the little gardener who declares without detour that she wants to marry Don Anchise. Shod in pink Doc Martin’s to her white dress, she stomps around, disdainful of Sandrina and cheeky with everyone else; she is obviously enjoying herself and so are we. Don Anchise is played by tenor Gregory Bonfatti, self-ironic, as a good sport and a bit overwhelmed. Marc Scoffoni, plays a convincing and tireless Nardo, and mezzo-soprano Marie-Claude Chappuis, with her warm and generous voice, is wonderful in the trouser-role of Don Ramiro. They all sing and dance and run about, powered by the music, and we have to laugh out loud when garden shears become rock guitars, or a badminton racket a microphone. The atmosphere changes towards the end: the background suddenly falls down on the empty stage, revealing a night forest, complete with moon and starlight skies, a set out of a dream. It’s in this place, facing nature, their own nature and its uncontrollable forces, that the characters turn into persons; in the dark they run after each other, couples are formed – and when the light arrives, it turns out that they have all gone wrong. Things are soon mended: Violanta and Belfiore are reunited, Serpetta finally says yes to Nardo, and Don Ramiro and Arminda have gone off and gotten married on their own. Only Don Anchise remains single and accepts it with humour. All this is perfectly Mozartian, light and amusing, and full of truths about human nature. The warm applause is largely deserved, and we leave the opera house, happy once again to know that the public in the so-called province has access to such wonderful cultural displays.