Libretto by Gennaro Federico
Serpina - Alize Franchesca Rozsnyai, soprano
Uberto - Jake Stamatis, baritone
Benjamin T. Berman, music director
Dezheng Ping, violin
Samantha Tomblin, violin
Marjorie Selden, viola
Aimee Nishimura, cello
Kate Lim, harpsichord
Anna Stefanelli, stage director
Maria Balboa, stage manager
About Pergolesi's La serva padrona
by Benjamin T. Berman
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) was born in Jesi, in the Province of Ancona. A violinist and organist, he studied in Naples under Gaetano Greco and Francesco Feo. In his short life he composed two of the most enduring masterpieces of western Classical music: Stabat Mater and La serva padrona. Pergolesi lived at a time of rapidly changing public taste. His setting of Stabat Mater was commissioned by the Confraternità dei Cavalieri di San Luigi di Palazzo, to replace one by Scarlatti which, though it was only written 9 years earlier, was deemed “old-fashioned.” Youthful and innovative, Pergolesi was among the creators of a style of drama called opera buffa, which rapidly spread throughout Europe and even caused a philosophical pamphlet war in Paris which has become known as the Querelle des bouffons.
La serva padrona is an opera buffa, originally intended as an intermezzo to come between acts of a larger work. It is comprised of arias and duets, punctuated by recitatives. The function of recitative in Italian opera is to move forward the plot, as opposed to arias, which serve to display the inner world of the characters. Even so, musical language in Pergolesi’s recitative constructs an emotional landscape for a character. A harmonic sequence underscores Serpina’s growing ambition:
Part 1 - Dressing Room
Uberto, an elderly bachelor, is angry and impatient with his maidservant, Serpina, because she has not brought him his chocolate today. Serpina has become so arrogant that she thinks she is the mistress of the household. Indeed, when Uberto calls for his hat, wig and coat, Serpina forbids him from leaving the house, adding that from then on he will have to obey her orders. Uberto thereupon orders Vespone to find him a woman to marry so that he can rid himself of Serpina.
Part 2 – Same dressing room
Serpina convinces Vespone to trick Uberto into marrying her. She informs Uberto that she is to marry a military man named Tempesta. She will be leaving his home and apologizes for her behavior. Vespone, disguised as Tempesta, arrives and, without saying a word, demands 4,000 crowns for a dowry. Uberto refuses to pay such a sum. Tempesta threatens him to either pay the dowry or marry the girl himself. Uberto agrees to marry Serpina. Serpina and Vespone reveal their trick; but Uberto realizes that he has loved the girl all along. They will marry after all; and Serpina will now be the true mistress of the household.
With each chord change, her self-image aggrandizes through the upward motion of the bass, accentuated by a melodic tritone. She proceeds cholerically from wanting to be respected, to wanting to be revered, to being the mistress, to arch-mistress, and finally, padronissima! The same exact sequence is repeated later in the opera, in dialogue between Uberto and the conniving maid. With each repetition, Serpina’s would-be suitor grow more and more monstrous, elevating Uberto’s pitch, and blood pressure, and betraying how easily he is manipulated by her.
The balance achieved by Pergolesi with this recapitulation also highlights the blatant similarities between these two short-tempered characters. Occasionally, irony colors hilarity as the recitative features verbatim repetition. In the following example, the two are revealed in their tendency to mock each other:
The purpose of recitative is action, but it is never emotionless; the texture is stripped nearly bare for much of the opera, in order to let the language speak for itself. That means that the singers are accompanied only by harpsichord. As can be seen above, every single chord was chosen carefully by the composer. Lest anyone accuse the recitative of being dry, Pergolesi further blurs the lines between action and affect by giving a recitativo accompagnato to Uberto, when he begins to contemplate marrying Serpina. That means that the full string ensemble accompanies Uberto’s recitative monologue.
Musical depictions of the concept of contrast can be achieved by juxtaposing loud and soft, or with melodies that are disjunct. When two melodies are in opposing counterpoint with each other, it is called “contrasting motion.” Generally, contrasts are tied to the need for resolution, as when a leap in one direction tends to resolve stepwise in the opposite direction. A contrasting slow movement often comes between two allegros. For much of the opera, the music, as with the characters, features a concatenation of contrasting elements. A prime example is Uberto’s first aria, “sempre in contrasti” in which the singer depicts the conflict between him and Serpina with dramatic leaps and changes of color. In the finale, at the moment of reconcilliative pre-nuptial joy, the singers resolve all this with a tender duet in parallel motion:
Any musician will tell you, repetition is an aid for comprehension – both Pergolesi and Milhaud understood this. For Pergolesi, this goes beyond the traditional da capo aria: he anticipated the Classical era with a balanced structure that recalls melodic ideas and uses unifying harmony to point to developing dramatic elements. And Milhaud took every chance he could to duplicate melodic cells, as if to be certain the audience could hear it right, so to speak. Ostinatos, verbatim repetitions, the brutal hammering of repeated keys, display all the contrasting glory of characters and situations. A tool that both composers also used exceeding well is harmony: at times to outline a series of affects, at others, to unsettle expectations. Milhaud’s bright final melody is downright eerie, as they accompany the wife as she slowly drags her husband’s dead body to the cistern. The dramatis personae also have unsettling tools at their disposal. Whereas the wife uses the hammer, a perfunctory tool, to achieve her will, Serpina uses the mute Vespone, a living person, as an object to manipulate Uberto. In some ways, this latter manipulation is more insidious. The tools of operatic drama are at the artists’ disposal, for the pleasure and edification of the audience. And its most powerful tool is melody. Both of these operas will send you out with a gift as tangible as the hammer: tunes which will continue to strike on the ear as you leave the theater this evening.
Alize Francheska Rozsnyai A soprano “displaying profound imagination and control” (Philadelphia Inquirer), is a graduate of The Curtis Institute of Music, has been described as a "stage animal,” and uniquely passionate about interpreting brand new works. Ms. Rozsnyai has performed with Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Den Nye Opera in Bergen, Norway, Opera Philadelphia, San Diego Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Seattle Symphony [Untitled 3] Series, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Opera Fayetteville, Center for Contemporary Opera, The Cape Cod Symphony, and favorite role credits include Adina (L'elisir d’amore), Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare), Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro), Zina (Dark Sisters), Blanche de la force (Dialogues des Carmélites), Hilda (Elegy for Young Lovers-Henze), Ilia (Idomeneo), Eurydice (Orphée aux enfers), La Fée (Cendrillon), Königin der Nacht (Die Zauberflöte), Thérèse (Les Mamelles de Tirésias), and concert, Soprano Soloist in Orff’s Carmina Burana, and has received many awards both regionally and internationally.
Jake Stamatis born and raised in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, has performed a variety of roles on the operatic stage. His quick, kind, and lovable demeanor has charmed audiences in such roles as Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, Marcello and Schaunard in La Bohème, and Anthony in Sweeney Todd. Jake has been a studio artist at Sarasota Opera, a fellow at the Music Academy of the West, an artist in residence with Tri-Cities Opera and Opera Memphis, and even served as a performer and staff choreographer with Bel Cantanti Opera’s Summer Festival. In Hub City Opera and Dance Company’s 2018 production of Orff’s Der Mond, Jake sang the Erster Bursche.
This is Kalvin Torres’ debut as a silent actor in an opera. The owner of Spark Electric, Kalvin resides in Springfield, NJ. He also appeared in Hub City Opera and Dance’s 2019 production of Goyescas as the servant. Kalvin has participated on the stage crew with Hub City Opera and Dance. Kalvin is also the proud father of a beautiful baby girl with his partner, Melissa Pauls. Hub City Opera is pleased to welcome Kalvin, a local community member, as part of our production.
Benjamin T. Berman, tenor, organist, harpsichordist, and conductor, is Music Director of Hub City Opera and Dance Company, the Presbyterian Church of Bound Brook, and of the Highland Park Community Chorus. Ben's first live major performance since the Covid-19 pandemic was a collaboration between HPCC and Rise Up Chorus, in which he conducted Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi in Metuchen. A variety of pursuits has brought him to play harpsichord with period instrument ensemble La Fiocco; serve on the board as vice president, music director, and founding member of the Hub City Opera and Dance Company; and work as accompanist at his alma mater: for the Rutgers Queens Chorale. Benjamin enjoys an active performing career in the region, performing with Opera Philadelphia, West Jersey Chamber Music Society, Makhelat Hamercaz, Choral Arts Society, and Vocala, and was honored to sing in the Czech Republic in 2018. As Music Director of HCODC, he has conducted the operas Der Mond by Carl Orff and Goyescas by Enrique Granados, and worked as music director for the innovative virtual programs Un\Rooted and Masks. Ben is a member of AGMA, ACDA, NATS, and NYSTA.
Grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board for Chosen Freeholders through a grant award from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund.
Program funded by Middlesex County, a partner of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
Anna Stefanelli, Stage Director – Ms. Stefanelli received a Bachelor of Arts in both Drama (with a concentration on directing and playwriting) and English from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. She also holds a Masters degree from New York University in English and American literature and is currently studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Opera Studies from Rose Bruford College of Performing Arts in England.. Stefanelli, who is also a professional opera singer, has studied operatic movement, staging, and interpretation with Ira Schiff, Elaine Malbin and Richard Crittenden, and with Maestro Vincent La Selva at the Juilliard School of Music. She was the stage director for the 2019 Hub City Opera and Dance production of Goyescas, and assistant director of Hub City Opera and Dance’s 2018 production of Der Mond. She was assistant director to the Green Room Theater production of Loot! in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she also directed Waiting for Godot. Stefanelli is also the creator and director of the children's musical theater group, The Magic Black Box Players, as well as owning two companies, A&R Artists and A&R Music Education (offering voice and piano instruction). She has directed musical theater and opera for La Bella Voce Opera Ensemble as well as for her own company, A&R Artists. Stefanelli has also directed and produced Hub City Opera children's opera, We're Building a City, as well as co-wrote and produced the Opera in the Park program at Highland Park, NJ. She is also the creator and principal artist of an opera program for children, Opera Fun, which she has presented to over a thousand children in the NJ school system as well as a lecture performance series for adults entitled, A Short History of Italian Opera.