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Giovanni PAISIELLO (1740–1816)
La Serva Padrona - Intermezzo in two acts (1781)
Uberto … Tiziano Bracci (bass-baritone)
Serpina … Gabriella Colecchia (mezzo)
Vespone … Gianni Salvo (silent role)
Orchestra del Teatro Massimo Bellini di Catania/Zuccarini
rec. Teatro Sangiorgi Catania, 17 April 2004
Stage Director: Gianni Salvo
Set Designer: Salvatore Tropea
Costume Designer: Alessandra Gramaglia
Lighting: Salvatore Da Campo
Video format: 4:3 colour
Region code: all regions
DVD format: NTSC
Subtitles and booklet notes: English, French, German, Italian

Experience Classicsonline

Paisiello wrote this intermezzo in 1781 for the name day celebrations of the young grandson of Empress Catherine II of Russia. Paisiello was then music director at the court at St. Petersburg.
Often recognisable characters from commedia dell’arte performed such intermezzi as comedy between acts or scenes of more serious drama. Indeed some stereotyping occurred so that by the time Paisiello put pen to paper the characters in the intermezzo could well be the clever feisty vivacious young woman servant interacting with her blustering not-so-bright older guardian. Thus it is in this intermezzo with cunning young Serpina outmanoeuvring for his own good her ‘guardian’ Uberto whose manservant Vespone utters not a word but mimes his role.
The plot is simple. Uberto has brought up maidservant Serpina in his household and she now irks him by her failures; the last being her failure to bring his chocolate before he goes out. He tells his servant Vespone to find him a wife so that he is rid of Serpina. Overhearing this, she herself arranges to marry the volatile Captain Tempest (Vespone in so-called disguise). Tempest (through Serpina) demands a dowry that Uberto cannot afford. Failing its provision Tempest decrees that to avoid broken bones Uberto must marry Serpina. Accepting that lesser evil Uberto agrees and then realizes that he has loved her all along.
For that plot, Piero Rattalino has written a prologue and finale that for me add little. ‘The web’ tells us that Rattalino has been involved in many musical events and publications and is a professor of piano. The prologue adopts the fiction that the players are a travelling troupe that has come to a down-market theatre for a rehearsal prior to the following night’s appearance before the tsarina. For the most part the prologue is predictable, fairly banal, and somewhat tedious. It comprises spoken dialogue between Gabriella Colecchia (Serpina) and Tiziano Bracci (Uberto) with mimed contributions from Gianni Salvo. The finale is spoken by Salvo alone (not silent this time) continuing the fiction that the audience has watched a rehearsal. I do not consider that the intermezzo needs either a prologue or finale.
Bracci has a smooth legato with a pleasing easy tone. It shines through constantly. However, either he holds himself back or he lacks the power, but rarely do we hear strong dynamics. His recitative in Ah! Poveretta lei is well delivered but in the aria he seems to lose volume, particularly with the orchestra playing too loud: that is until he comes down centre stage front and puts some ‘oomph’ into the sound.
The other problem is one of casting/make-up. Bracci has boy-ish good looks, which is fine for him: but without heavier make up it makes a nonsense of the idea that he helped bring up his maidservant from when she was a baby. This is not an old man: nor does he bluster or protest much even when describing things that drive him mad. In this production his is the ‘stand and deliver’ acting method which at least allows us to hear his gentle colouring. Bracci is a young man (accepting that four years have elapsed since this recording). With vocal nurturing and dramatic loosening he should go far.
Gabriella Colecchia has a dramatic lightness and sense of mischievous fun. She has better dynamics and a stronger sound than Bracci. She produces gentle vocal runs and leaps with security and produces colouring to match his. However, at forte and quicker speeds her voice from time to time develops a somewhat harsh sound and I am not convinced entirely that every note in her higher register was middled. That said this is a lively performance by another young singer. Vocally they interact deftly but his lack of dramatic responses gives her an uphill struggle to sustain the fun.
The orchestra is well paced if occasionally over-enthusiastic about the sound of their instruments. As Salvo reminds us in the finale, this setting of the libretto came some fifty years after Pergolesi set the same text in what is generally considered the better intermezzo. Pergolesi did not use wind instruments – perhaps with good reason.
Salvo’s miming in the intermezzo and parts of the prologue is superb. His experience shines through at all times – even if occasionally he seems to take over – but then he is stage director too.
The booklet usefully gives track numbers, names and lengths. There is also an interesting article by Rattalino. The DVD has an ‘Extras’ section including biographies of the personnel – with one or two revealing facts. An example is Colecchia’s statement of her special interest in Neapolitan music and her then studies refining her bel canto technique: so refreshing to read that in a biography – the recognition of which should also mean that she succeeds, securing a positive future.
As far as I am aware this is the only DVD of this intermezzo. Whilst it has its drawbacks, at a cost just into double figures, it is a modest price indeed to pay to watch an appealing performance.
Robert McKechnie


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