Mostly Baroque wraps Miami opera season with delightful Pergolesi

By Lawrence Budmen

Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona was performed by Mostly Baroque Saturday night in Cutler Bay.

This has been a good season for both Baroque opera and music of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi in South Florida. Seraphic Fire offered a performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater last fall and Florida Grand Opera closed its season earlier this month with a staging of Handel’s Agrippina. 

Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona was presented Saturday night by Mostly Baroque in a delightful performance at the South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay. 

The ensemble was started as a chamber trio in the late 1990’s. More recently located and performing in Connecticut, Mostly Baroque  now presents programs of operatic and orchestral literature.

As a prelude to the evening’s main event in SMDCA’s small black box space, a nine member instrumental component (composed of strings and harpsichord) played Georg Philipp Telemann’s Don Quichotte suite. While many of the prolific Telemann’s instrumental works seem heavy-handed, the composer also had a lighter, more populist side. Both his Water Music and this depiction of scenes from Cervantes’ Don Quixote abound in delightful melodies and infectious spirits. 

Led from the concertmaster’s chair by David O. Hartman, the group’s founder and director, the players’ robust attack and articulation gave stately weight to the overture’s introductory measures and fleet vivacity to the ensuing allegro. There was aristocratic grace in the would-be knight’s sighs for Dulcinea and fine unison playing of the swirling figures that introduce Sancho Panza. The folkish melody of Don Quixote at rest was imbued with charm.

During the 18th century, composers often created short comic operas, called “intermezzos,” to keep audiences entertained between acts of longer, more serious and dramatic works. Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona is one of the most famous scores in this genre. The comic tale tells of a fast-paced battle of wits and wills between the aging bachelor Uberto and his maid Serpina. In the end, they find that they love each other and marry with a little help from Uberto’s servant Vespone. No dead bodies at the curtain of this operatic entertainment.

As the comedic master of the house, Johan Hartman revealed a large, dark bass-baritone that immediately made one sit up and take notice. He could spin patter at rapid pace and brought crisp verve to the recitative. Hartman seems a born comic, his timing deft and facial expressions frequently hilarious.  

Sarah Tsai’s light soubrette nicely conveyed Serpina’s coy scheming. In the heroine’s solo aria, the sweetness of Tsai’s soprano impressed with her zest, agility and finely pointed phrasing. The couple’s voices blended to vivid effect, and their split-second horseplay kept the narrative moving. The duets for the principals presage those for Figaro and Susanna in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and both singers’ stylish and bright delivery consistently enchanted the ear. 

The role of the harried servant Vespone is usually a mimed part but Jose Vazquez was given an aria at the outset of the opera’s second act. Displaying firm low notes, he shaped long phrases skillfully. Disguised as an alleged soldier fiancée of Serpina, he made the most of the chaotic high jinks.

For the opera, the musicians moved off the stage to a pit-like position on the right. With tables surrounding the performing space, the intimate cabaret theater proved ideal for small-scale opera. The singers did not have to force or push their voices to be heard and, under Hartman’s vigorous direction, balances between vocal and orchestral forces were near-perfect. A few props, including a desk with an old-fashioned typewriter (remember those?), more than adequately provided the setting 

David Hartman’s brisk tempos and attention to Pergolesi’s supple details kept the pacing fleet and bubbly. One can only hope that there will be more productions from Mostly Baroque of this largely unserved—in Miami, anyway—operatic repertoire.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Sun May 29, 2022
at 2:09 pm
No Comments