La Finta Giardiniera was Mozart’s 5th opera, written when he was only 18 years old. The piece includes one of opera’s many mad scenes, a convention dating back to the 17th century—the most famous of which may be in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.
Act 1: The action begins on the day that Arminda (the Mayor’s niece) and Count Belfiore are to meet in anticipation of their arranged wedding. Meanwhile, the Mayor has fallen in love with Sandrina (actually the disguised Violante, whose lover Belfiore stabbed her a year ago in a fit of jealousy and fled believing her dead). The Mayor’s maid Serpetta, who has designs on him herself, spurns the overtures of Nardo (Violante’s manservant Roberto, also in disguise as her assistant). Cavalier Ramiro (Arminda’s spurned lover) complains about her treatment of him but to no avail; and when Arminda and Belfiore meet, the arranged marriage seems certain. However, at this point, Belfiore encounters Sandrina. He takes her to be his late beloved Violante, but she is determined to punish him, and she denies the truth. Confusion reigns, and everyone – especially Arminda – is cross with or jealous of (or both) someone else.
Act II: Belfiore is distraught after seeing Sandrina, but Arminda has nothing but contempt for her “betrothed”. Ramiro unsuccessfully attempts to reconcile with the willful Arminda. Nardo continues to pursue Serpetta, but like the other ladies, she will have none of it. Ramiro arrives with a dispatch from Milan, charging the Mayor to arrest Belfiore for the murder of the Countess. The Mayor runs off to cancel the wedding plans. Sandrina and Belfiore quarrel after she denies her true identity, but when the Mayor arrives to confront Belfiore, Sandrina publicly declares herself to be the Countess, only to reverse her position when alone with Belfiore again. Enraged, Arminda plans her revenge, Sandrina runs off in dismay, and Belfiore begins to lose his mind. Nardo brings the confused Belfiore to search for Sandrina. The Mayor, Arminda, and Serpetta follow them, and they all wander about in the dark until Ramiro arrives with a lantern, whereupon the search party devolves into utter disarray while Sandrina and Belfiore take total leave of their senses.
Act III: Ramiro refuses to give up his pursuit of Arminda, while Nardo reaffirms his desire for Serpetta. Only Belfiore and Sandrina, recovering from their madness, are able to reconcile, unable to resist their mutual affection against their better judgement. Bittersweet couplings and uncouplings are the order of the day, as everyone sings the praises of the “pretend” gardener, whose fidelity and strength prove the power of love.
Adapted from a synopsis by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.