Lithuanian National Opera 2020–21 Review: La Serva Padrona
A Small Baroque Opera in the Service of the Art’s Greatest GoalsBy Polina Lyapustina
(Photo: Martynas Aleksa)
On a cold rainy day, we attended an operatic event taking place outside the ArtVilnius fair pavilion.
Though there were some performances before, people still came to the Opera Truck in dozens. The interest was high, and now, the well-proven production set on tour around Lithuania. The events were free of charge and supposed to pave the way to the audience’s hearts, according to Sesto Quatrini’s initial idea to bring the opera to everyone and also to people who couldn’t afford tickets.
Although, at the moment the purpose looks completely different.
We learned that art must be reflective. Because if it isn’t then what’s the use? It will neither touch our hearts nor charge our minds. When opera professionals met this thought in postmodern times in the late 20th century, they took it seriously. And with this, the rebirth of baroque, bel-canto, and classical operas began. Since then, we came to theatres to see an old masterpiece questioning, what else will be shown, how will they light up an old piece, what will it bring to us, will we like it?
But today, a short Baroque piece “La Serva Padrona” by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi is set to be performed without superfluity of modern perspective.
Gediminas Šeduikis keeps it lighthearted and funny. Nothing to remove or add. The set designer Sigita Šimkūnaitė created a perfect set for this bridal battle — bright and colorful, while costume designer Ugnė Tamuliūnaitė complemented it with lovely period costumes of the matching color scheme.
Together they designed a solution that I would describe with one word — catchy. And this is the first step to the hearts.
The Opera Truck
The opera truck was open and people looked at the set which wasn’t hidden behind the curtain.
They took pictures.
They waited and wondered.
A family of four was about to leave the Art Fair.
“Mom, let’s check what’s this.”
Though the woman was tired, they came to the truck and she read the description.
“Well, the opera it is. Do you want to stay and watch?”
I saw the mother wanting to go home and rest, yet I see her now as a part of this night, as important as singers and the orchestra.
The seats were wet — Lithuanian weather is not kind in October. The wind was freezing. The stage was small, the orchestra even smaller — just a string quartet and harpsichord. And people wondered if it would be worth it.
This weekend, the capital of Lithuania experienced an increased level of air pollution caused by the fires in Ukraine. People were expectedly stressed and hardly ready to have fun. You could feel it when a fabulous appearance of the title character did not cause any perceptible reaction.
But the orchestra didn’t seem worried. I guess they saw this reaction before.
They start with a vivid overture followed by the classic introduction sung by the old Uberto.
And just like that, the audience forgot where they were. It was not acting or singing that pulled them out of this cold day and the world of the pandemic. The music did.
Vital, yet reduced in instruments, from the first chord, it appeared so rich in motions, seasoned with a great beat, that sounds even modern in the arrangement made by Olga Taškinaitė. When her hands flew in the air from the keys, the quartet followed every movement of her fingers dynamically and precisely. This sincerity and accuracy broke through the gray of the day.
Then the time came for the young stars to shine.
Monika Pleškytė was a bold servant Serpina, while Kšištof Bondarenko hilariously portrayed Umberto. Pleškytė provided energy and dynamism to Serpina’s irresponsible attitude, hitting with the clarity in the high registers and mild and elegant mid-range. Kšištof Bondarenko is well-know for his amazingly lively facial expressions, which helped him to portray the old man blazingly. And yet his voice made it even better. Effortlessly he played with the volume of his powerful bass, showing the robust bottom sound and vigorous flexibility in his range.
The silent role of Vespone played by Benadas Arkauskas is worth a separate mention. Witty and odd, he brought his youthful energy into the play, creating contrast and layering of the play. As many of us, I believe, forget or never knew, the silent roles in early operas were also written with the aim of supporting the orchestra or the whole play, to avoid simplifying the plot to the single line of the singing characters. So I could definitely thank Arkauskas for not missing a single fine tune of the musicians that night.
On the small stage, people could observe the whole picture; a not far cry from the experience of watching a screen throughout the lockdown. They clicked and changed the focus to musicians. Loud laughter returned them to the action. How warm and kind this performance was to its audience. They were allowed to do what they please. They were welcome here. Once created to be easily accessed by people, the opera truck became a way to find the spectators.
Now it’s a two-way street.
Drawing waves of warm laughter and applause, today, this funny little baroque piece served the opera industry’s overall goal of bringing this art form to a level of attainability for audiences (old and new) throughout the pandemic. Bringing them all they missed, all they struggled to get in recent times. And bringing people back to the opera, where they are greatly missed.
Art is reflective, powerful, and extensive, they say. I’ll add that it’s certainly more than we see on the stage.
It is in us.