Wexford Festival Opera – La serva padrona

La serva padrona – Intermezzo in two parts to a libretto by Gennaro Antonio Federico after the play by Jacopo Angello Nelli

Uberto – Bradley Smoak
Serpina – Ekaterina Bakanová
Vespone – Roberto Recchia

Greg Ritchey – Music Director & Piano
Roberto Recchia – Director
Kate Guinness – Set & Production design
David Stuttard – Lighting design

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 29 October, 2010
Venue: Whites Hotel, Wexford, Ireland

This was a riotous bubble of an operatic short given in a large room in Whites Hotel. The Director, Roberto Recchia, was discovered costumed as a waiter, Vespone, fixing drinks and coffees at the bar and delivering them to the punters at tables surrounding and on the main platform. Not evidently the most polished of waiters and certainly one with a degree of ‘attitude’, the character portrayed was hardly a good advert for the host hotel! Some brave audience-members were invited to sit at the tables on the stage, and played gamely along with being the stooges. A hilarious spoken monologue introduced the background to Pergolesi’s short operatic diversion, including amusingly disruptive and interruptive banter with one of the lady ushers, a redoubtable and apparently unflappable lady named Ethna, who was bravely trying to explain the fire exits and housekeeping arrangements within the venue. Then the music began.

Uberto, here recast as Uberto Bianco, the owner of Whites (yes), is in love and in thrall to his wily maid Serpina. Despite being the master he obeys her every order, until he decides to dispose of her to cure his longings for her. She is understandably irritated but, declaring she has a suitor, leaves to marry him if Uberto agrees. She then persuades the mute servant, Vespone, to produce someone (one of the stage volunteers) to impersonate her intended Captain Tempest who demands an impossibly large dowry and threatens violence, forcing Uberto to relent and to marry the servant himself – what he wanted all along. He will spend the rest of his life being ordered about.

Bradley Smoak was a communicative and soft Uberto, hilarious when finding the confidence to deliver one of his arias as a Nightclub/Karaoke routine and with a nice line in deadpan facial expressions. Ekaterina Bakanová was the bright-voiced and feisty maid – very much attuned to the operatic convention of such characters and her knowing engagement with the audience. Both sang with verve and evidence enjoyment. With some witty operatic interpolations (including ‘Verranno a te’ from “Lucia di Lammermoor” and some quick snatches of “Lohengrin”) and variations embedded by both singers and also by the inventive pianist Greg Ritchey to keep the opera buffs alert this was a musical and visual delight – right down to the well-rehearsed slapstick of cream-pies in faces and the like.

Not subtle fare to be sure and, strangely, one hardly registered that this was being sung in Italian and without humour-killing surtitles so good was the communication. Fun!

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