PergolesiOpera is something of an absence on this blog, I’m not really into opera. But while we were living in San Francisco I was asked to provide an English translation (or at least paraphrase) for a performance of La serva padrona by the Russian Chamber Orchestra, arranged and conducted by Alexander Vereshagin. I’d been writing programme notes for the orchestra’s regular performances in Mill Valley. La serva padrona, the 45 minute long opera buffa was first performed in Naples in 1733. Its place in the history of opera relies on it being one of the first to use of characters from ordinary, day-to-day life.

There are three roles (though one, the servant Vespone, has a non-singing role). Master of the house Uberto (bass) is a bachelor, and in his opening aria “Sempre in contrasti” (“always contrary”), he complains to his maid Serpina (soprano) who has failed to bring him his chocolate and now it’s too late as he’s about to go out. The aria illustrates his agitation through its spluttering rhythms – ie  “e si e no” and similar variants. As the opera progresses it becomes apparent that Serpina now regards herself not as a servant, but as the mistress of the household. Fed up with being ordered around, Uberto vows to find himself a wife in order to be rid of her. Serpina gets Vespone the servant to disguise himself as a suitor for her, who demands a dowry from Uberto to marry her – all part of a trick to get Uberto to marry Serpina himself. In a recitative passage Uberto admits his feelings are confused, but in the end he realizes he loves Serpina, and the opera ends in their marriage.

The performance we put on in English made the chamber opera very accessible and it felt surprisingly modern. We added a few anachronisms as well, such as Vespone having a camera and taking a picture of the happy couple at the end – I have a copy of the picture he took during the actual performance somewhere, but couldn’t find it to post here – if I find it I will update the blog. This isn’t music I listen to very much nowadays, but it was very exciting being involved in the production.

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