Geoffrey Schellenberg, Mark A. Thomsen, and Helen Huang Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

Portland Opera’s production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera (or “The Fake Gardener”) is the latest and best example of their general director Christopher Mattaliano's savvy adaption to the economic realities of a modern opera company.

Tapping four resident artists for much of the main cast, rather than calling in outsiders, is not only a smart cost-cutting measure, but also gives the talents of soprano Helen Huang, mezzo-soprano Camille Sherman, tenor Thomas Cilluffo, and baritone Geoffrey Schellenberg a proper showcase. More importantly, staging Finta in the 900-seat Newmark Theatre rather than Portland Opera's usual haunt of the Keller Auditorium, offers a closer look at the fine stage acting of all the principals as well as letting the performers to find subtle ways to engage with the audience.

Throughout the lengthy opening night performance, the singers fed flirtatious looks and mugged to the crowd, working to match the snappy direction of Chas Rader-Shieber and the costumes of Michael Olich, which gave the opera the feel of a wacky comedy.

That tone was a perfect complement to the madcap story that Mozart dreamed up when he was all of 18 years old. The complicated romantic dealings at the center of Finta's plot would strain the word count of this review, but its core revolves around a noblewoman hiding (she’s the titular gardener) in plain sight on the estate of a spurred lover who also tried to stab her. Love quadrangles knot the story and tie the exhilarating thrills of romance to pure lunacy.

Lindsay Ohse as Sandrina/Violante
Lindsay Ohse as Sandrina/Violante Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.

The singers matched the spirit of the show every step of the way. Soprano Antonia Tamer (in the role of Arminda) was all sass, brass, and plunging décolletage as she strove to win the affections of Count Belfiore (Cilluffo, in a smarmy and overwhelmed comedic turn) and fend off her ex Ramiro (Sherman). Soprano Lindsay Ohse (as Sandrina/Violante) stole every moment she was onstage, wavering between put-upon frustration, lovestruck wonder, and stern authority.

As campy as it occasionally got and as operatic as it remained, the production never felt overblown or ungainly. It felt big enough to fill the cozy space of the Newmark and intimate enough to let the various love stories playing out onstage feel engaging and true.

(Thurs July 18, Sat July 20, Wed July 24, Sat July 27, 7:30 pm, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, $35)