Review Pergolesi's Home Service

Maestro Mark Ensley and Theater Director Umberto Pergolesi [Susan Owen]

Bent Lorentzen Pergolesiís Home Service:
USA Premiere

On October 16, 2008, The Chamber Opera of Memphis presented the first American performance of Danish composer Bent Lorentzenís Pergolesiís Home Service. Since its premiere in Aarhus in 1998, the work has seen several revisionsókeyboard has replaced tape, spoken dialogue has substituted for sung recitatives, and the text has been translated from Danish, first into German and now into English. This last was done by Susan Owen-Leinert, who also sang the central role of Umberto Pergolesi in this production. The composer has rewritten this role for mezzo-soprano, affording the many-talented Ms. Owen-Leinert the first pants role in her distinguished career.

Pergolesiís Home Service is a play within a play. In the face of budget cuts, Umberto Pergolesi, many-times-great-nephew of the Italian composer Giovanni Pergolesi, has devised Opera Trasportabile with the aim of presenting greatly reduced productions in small spaces. (The suggestion for The Flying Dutchman in a bathtub was particularly intriguing.) Against this background we see a version of La serva padrona in which the orchestra has been reduced to keyboard and one trombone. The trombonist not only offers oddly idiomatic and extremely virtuosic takes on the original string parts, but also participates in some of the stage action.

In addition to Lorentzenís recasting of Giovanni Pergolesiís original (all of the themes of La serva padrona are heard in Home Service) there were many citations from well-known operas, especially those of Giacomo Puccini, in honor of the 150th anniversary of his birth. Nor were audible operatic references the only ones. A Carmenesque tambourine and a silver rose decorated the proscenium, and the curtain rose to Vespone measuring boards and furniture, a silent reminiscence of Mozartís Le nozze di Figaro.

Political humor was fair game three weeks before an American presidential election. Serpina identified her fiancť as "Arnold Schwarzenegger" and Umberto later called him "the terminator" and "that maverick." The end of the first monolog gave the campaign-weary audience one of the funniest lines in the show: "I am Umberto Pergolesi, and I approve this message."

The performers represented the complete range of personnel of the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music at The University of Memphis, where the performance took place.

Ms. Owen-Leinert and John Mueller are on the performance faculty in voice and trombone, respectively. Mark Ensley, who played keyboard, is the musical director of the Opera program. April Hamilton (Serpina), a graduate student in voice, displayed a remarkably lovely voice and considerable comedic talent.

The mute role of Vespone was taken by Moira Logan, Professor of Dance and the Associate Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts. Her antics as a carpenter nearly stole the show, and her appearance at the end as a parodistically ultra-feminine nurse pushed the gender-bending over the top.

Michael Leinert, Artistic Director of The Chamber Opera of Memphis and co-librettist of the original Home Service, provided imaginative direction that blurred the lines between singers and orchestra, between actors and audience. While Serpina sang her "Intrigue"Aria about snaring a husband, members of the audience were threw skeins of yarn to each other, creating a tangible snare. The juxtaposition of the whimsical and the zany, of physical comedy and intellectual pleasure, provided a most interesting and enjoyable operatic evening.

John David Peterson

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