Opera Duet: La Serva Padrona and Trouble in Tahiti at Opera Santa Barbara
FRIDAY, April 15, 2011
by Robert F. Adams
Intriguing performances of Giovanni Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona (The Servant Mistress) paired with Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti were given by Opera Santa Barbara at the historic Lobero Theatre on April 8th and 10th, 2011. An adventurous double-bill, this unlikely program of short operatic works comprised the final productions of the current opera season.
La Serva Padrona, was written in 1733 and premiered at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1733, opened the evening’s program. Director Lawrence Edelson conceptually set the action in a vague 1950s mis-en-scene, and stylized the story of a careless playboy trapped within an artificial world of larger than life set constructions, complete with pink wallpaper, nudie figure cutouts, and leopard print chairs. The setting brought to mind a place where Hugh Hefner might encounter characters from the comic strip Blondie. Baritone Ao Li, a superb singer/actor played the demanding bachelor, Umberto. With delightful comic timing Mr. Li captured the utter haplessness of a man whose intent on avoiding marriage is crushed by a determined maid. Delightfully sung by the enchanting soprano Susannah Biller, as the scheming housemaid Serpina, this comic intermezzo was rounded out by the silently silly and doddering butler Vespone (Daniel Montenegro). This was a rambunctious staging of a classic opera buffa.
Trouble in Tahiti followed and is a complex one-act opera with vernacular jazz roots. Composed in early 1952 by the young Leonard Bernstein, the work critiques suburban lifestyles and portrays the facade of American domestic life. Mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani, a singer originally from Israel, played the heroine Dinah. Compelling dramatic moments were apparent in her exquisite performance of the title song Trouble in Tahiti. Full of tempo twists and surprises, as only Bernstein could imagine, Ms. Lahyani’s full-throttled approach embraced the swift changes of the rhythms and the quixotic hopes of the character’s marriage. Ryan Kuster, as Sam, the overtly self-assured husband, completely convinced as a self-absorbed man who personifies greed, sexism, and winning-at-all-costs. A trio singing radio-type jingles made up the chorus and included Sara Gartland, Ao Li, and Daniel Montenegro, all vocally spot-on and provided the necessary counterpoint for the dramatic framework. The direction from Mr. Edelson was handled with exceptional sensitivity.
The emerging talent developed by the prestigious Adler Program at San Francisco Opera delivered the adept performances. Other successful collaborators from the production team included Mark Morash, the conductor, along with the talented musicians of the orchestra; Martin T. Lopez and Josh Epstein for the imaginative costumes and lighting, respectively; and Heather Sterling, for the expressive wigs and makeup.
As the final applause from enthusiastic audiences winds down for the 2010-2011 season, performing arts patrons can recall many fine moments at Opera Santa Barbara. One can look forward with anticipation to the treasures being developed for the next year to come of operatic delights.
To learn more about programs and special events from Opera Santa Barbara, see them on the web at www.OperaSB.org or call (805) 898-3890 for more information.