|Fabrizio Doria, Pamela Jones, and Daniel Klein (photo by meche kroop)|
Guest Review by Ellen Godfrey:
The audience at the National Opera Center, on Sunday afternoon, was treated to a delightful performance of the 18th century comic opera La Serva Padrona, presented by the Lighthouse Opera Company. The founder and director of the company, which was started two years ago, is Dr. John Banks, a classical musician and a high school music teacher. The company’s mission is to help shine a light on classically trained singers of all backgrounds by performing operas in their original language, for new and diverse audiences in the Bronx, New York City, and beyond. The company also brings new and emerging opera talent to the public’s attention with live opera performances.
La Serva Padrona, (The Servant Turned Mistress), was composed by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710 -1736), based on a play by Jacopo Angello Nelli. This opera buffa, (comic opera), was originally performed as an intermezzo (intermission) for an opera seria (serious opera) called Il Prigionier Superbo, (the Proud Prisoner). The opera had its premiere in 1733 in Naples, and enjoyed great popularity throughout Europe for many years. Eventually, the two intermezzi were separated from the serious opera to become a 45 minute opera. It quickly grew very popular throughout European and is still being performed today.
In 1752, Pergolesi’s opera buffa sparked a great argument in France. It was called the querelle des bouffons (the war of the comic actors) and argued about the merits of reverent French and irreverent Italian music theatre. These discussions further led to reforms by the composer Christopher Willibald Gluck, (1714-1787), who grew tired of the overly ornate operas of the Baroque period. He moved to the simplicity of the Classical style. Gluck’s reforms influenced the great Mozart, who composed operas in the same style.
Between the 16th and 18th century, Italian strolling players, known as La Commedia Dell’arte, performed throughout Europe and had a great influence on drama and music. The troupes used improvisation, stock characters, and a few standard scenarios to tell the funny stories. In La Serva Padrona the female stock character is Serpina, a bossy woman; Uberto is the grouchy older man, and Vespone, a mute servant. The joke in the opera is a domestic argument which involves a reversal of roles; the servant is the mistress of the home while the older man is under her strict command. He can’t decide if he wants to marry her or not. Serpina makes sure that he will marry her by pretending to marry a soldier (who is a mute servant in disguise). In the end their roles reverse and they have a joyous marriage celebration.
There is a feminist side to this opera and other themes including ambition, equality of men and women, and recognition of respect for each other. The wonderful director for this performance, John Tedeschi, has a real feel for comedy and he kept the action alive and funny. He changed the original location of the opera to the Civil War period. He was inspired by some similarities to a 19th century woman, Lydia Hamilton Smith, a servant and also mistress of her house. During the Civil War, both she and her husband, Thaddeus Stevens, were active in the underground railroad and helped shelter southern slaves to escape to the north.
Daniel Klein and Pamela Jones made good sparring partners in this delightful comedy. Bass-baritone Daniel Klein was a wonderful Uberto. He is tall and has a big gorgeous bass-baritone voice with lots of resonance. His frustration with his bossy maid, Serpina, was strong and humorous. He is an excellent comedian; he fidgeted, he twirled his mustache upwards, got angry, and contorted his face, especially by bulging his eyes.
Coloratura soprano Pamela Jones has a beautiful clear big voice which she uses very well. She never pushes the voice so it carries very beautifully. She also has excellent diction. Having performed in opera, musicals, and straight plays, she is very much at home on the comic stage. Her Serpina was a strong character who knew just what she wanted and how to boss Uberto around. As good as the acting of the performers was, it would have been even better if they did not have to look at the score.
Fabrizio Doria played the mute role of Vespone perfectly with lots of comic touches.
For this production, Maggie Ronck created costumes for the three principals that were appropriate to the period. Uberto was costumed in a stunning suit with a long coat and tie and a big hat. Serpina’s mid-19th century costume was a beautiful long checkered dress. Later in the opera,when Serpina and Umberto were finally ready to marry, they had broad hats of the period. Pamela’s hat was adorned with flowers. Ms .Ronck’s costumes for Vespone, the mute, were also designed well.
The music for this opera is absolutely delightful. The Sepia Baroque Ensemble was elegantly conducted by Maestro Stephen Francis Vasta. The ensemble of 5 string instruments (2 violins, a viola, cello, and bass were accompanied by the harpsichord. This small ensemble was very vibrant and supported the singers very well.
Everyone in the theatre enjoyed seeing this 18th century masterpiece.
© meche kroop