La Serva Padrona
(The Maid Turned Mistress)
A Pantomime Ballet
The musical selections will need to be reworked and shortened. The links take you to a video of the music for quick reference. All of the videos are cued to start at the right spot.
Serpina: dancer in the half-serious style
Uberto: dancer in the half-serious style
Vespone: actor, or dancer in the comic style
The first part of the sinfonia from Olimpiade (0:00 to 1:24):
The curtain rises during the last bars.
The kitchen in the house of the aristocrat Uberto. Stageleft: a stove and beside it a chair and a small kitchen table; on top, a mirror and a small box of Serpina’s personal effects containing notably a fan, some ribbon, and a Bible. Stageright: the door to the kitchen.
Music: “A Serpina penserete” (26:38-29:50):
Serpina is alone in the kitchen, and rather downcast. She stands at the stove stirring a pot listlessly. The stirring slows until she stops altogether and walks away full of thoughts about a better life for herself. In the pause of the music, a bell rings (Uberto ringing for his morning hot chocolate). She scowls in the direction of the sound but ignores it. She turns to the mirror and begins to look at herself in it imagining how she might look if she were a grand lady. She rushes over to the box on the table, pulls out a ribbon and places it here and there about her bodice as if designing a fancy dress. She goes back to the box, puts the ribbon back and pulls out a fan and begins fanning herself as if some grand lady strutting in a lord’s house. She tries to see herself fully but then goes and pulls over the chair to stand on so that she can see her skirt. She gathers the apron this way and that and admires her reflection. The bell rings again in a pause in the music; she angrily gestures at it. She returns to her daydreaming and is so carried away that she eventually begins to dance, doing a little solo.
Music: “Aspettare e non venire” (2:35-4:16):
Vespone enters in a state, and Serpina is at once put out by this intrusion. He tells her Uberto above has been ringing again and again for his hot chocolate and wants it now (i.e., he points above and then mimes drinking from a cup and then crosses his arms and taps one foot impatiently with a put-out expression on his face). Serpina scornfully dismisses this. Vespone becomes more insistent, but this only puts her in an even greater temper. She pulls out a bucket with brush and orders him to scrub the kitchen floor. He protests, but she bullies him into it. She stands over him, as he, most unwillingly, starts to scrub. She goes back to the table, and he gets up and is about to escape, but she stops him and makes him continue. She goes back to the stove, and he starts to get to his feet again but she threatens him with the wooden spoon and he gives up fleeing.
Music: “Sempre in contrasti” (7:52-11:27):
Uberto enters, wearing slippers and a housecoat, and with a bell still in his hand. Not seeing Vespone down on all fours scrubbing, he nearly stumbles over him. He holds up the bell and rings it insistently in her face. She stops her ears and scowls and then angrily points to the stove as if to say “What do you think I’m doing now?) and the gestures for him to get out of the way. He remains under foot, pulls out a pocket watch and gestures to it and then puts it away. She hands him a hot container of chocolate, and he rushes to the table and sets it down. He sits down and fusses about his hands being burnt. She comes over with a jar of ointment and begins to rub them slowly and sensuously, and he closes his eyes and enjoys the attention. In the meantime, Vespone fetches his shoes and kneeling on the floor takes off his slippers and puts on his shoes. She then starts to wrap his hands with a cloth and ends up tying the two ends together. Vespone unties them. Uberto is a little put out again. She begins to toy with him. She puts her foot on the edge of his chair, slowly pulls up her skirt and to reveal her leg and unties a scarlet garter. And then toying it with it, she saunters behind Uberto and runs it under his nose and then blindfolds him with it. He tries to push it up from his eyes, but she slaps his hand, stopping him. She pushes him up out of the chair.
Music: “Stizzoso, mio stizzoso!” (13:02-16:29)
Serpina and Uberto begin to play blind man’s bluff. Even Vespone pokes his master a few times. This is a mix of dance and pantomime. At length Uberto catches Serpina in his arms, and she takes off the blindfold. He finds himself dumbstruck. She pushes him down to his knees and points to her ringfinger, as if to say, “you ought to marry me.” Suddenly seized with fear, he gets to his feet and backs away, but Serpina closes in on him. He backs up against the table, and his hand finds Serpina’s apron. He picks it up and gives it to her and then rushes out. Angry, Serpina stamps her foot and also rushes out.
Music: first bars of “Son imbrogliato io gia” slowing down (31:52-32:07)
Vespone, now alone, is relieved to be rid of the two and tries to calm himself down.
Music: a fragment from this slow section (1:27-3:57):
He feels that he is getting a headache. A thought comes to him and he begins to search for something in the kitchen.
At last, he finds a bottle of wine and begins to drink from it, and heavily. He becomes lighthearted and pretends that the bottle is a woman to be wooed. He pulls the chair out and sets the bottle down on the seat, kneels down beside it and grovels as if the bottle were a shrew hard to please. At length, he seizes the bottle, kisses it and then empties it, thereby making fun of Serpina and Uberto. (If Vespone is a dancer rather than actor, this would be an opportunity for a comic dance.) He becomes lightheaded and dizzy, such that he needs to sit down at the table, where he puts his heavy head down and falls asleep.
Serpina returns, bearing in her arms a hat, cape, sword with baldric, a fake mustache, and a nosegay of red roses. She rouses Vespone and forces him to stand still while dresses him as Captain Tempesta. They then exit together, Vespone protesting and upset, and Serpina most insistent.
Uberto returns to the empty kitchen, bearing in hand a small nosegay with ribbons. In the interim, he has changed his mind and now seeks Serpina. He looks around the kitchen and is let down that she is not there. He then feels a little silly and is about to leave.
Serpina returns to the kitchen. Uberto hides the nosegay behind his back and wants to leave.
At this moment, Captain Tempesta arrives. He marches past Uberto towards Serpina and does a grand bow, kisses her hand, kneels down and presents her with the roses. Uberto marches over, seizes the Tempesta’s nosegay from Serpina’s hands and gives it back to Tempesta. He kneels down and boldly presents his own little nosegay to her. Tempesta then seizes the nosegay from Serpina and hands it back to him and forces her to take the roses. Again, Uberto returns the roses and forces her to accept his. He turns on Tempesta, who now a little frightened, begins to back away and as Uberto is about to seize him, he draws his sword, the blade of which is broken off about four inches from the hilt. Uberto then seizes him and means to throw him out of the house. Vespone is overcome with dread, shakes his head vigorously, but Serpina intervenes and rips off Tempesta’s fake mustache and pulls off his hat, revealing Vespone. Uberto is surprised and then a little angry, but she calms him down in a seductive manner.
Music: “Per te io ho nel core” (39:40-42:35)
They express their “love” to each other. She tells him that her heart is all aflutter and has him listen to its beating. He does likewise. She insists that he marry her right then and there. She pulls out a little black Bible from her box and gives it to him. He stupidly gives it to Vespone, who is to act as priest. Vespone, who is still a little drunk, opens the book and has difficulty standing. Uberto sees that the book is upside down and turns it over in his hands. Serpina and Vespone do their wedding vows. Vespone tells him he can kiss the bride. When he goes to kiss her, she offers merely her hand. Oddly moved by the event, Vespone wishes to kiss the bride as well, but Serpina turns her back on him. He leaves in high dudgeon.
Music: “Contento tu sarai” (42:35):
Serpina and Uberto dance an extended romantic pas de deux, with alternating solo passages.
During the final bars of the last piece, Uberto calls Vespone back in, orders him to place the chair in the middle of the stage, has Serpina sit, as if a queen on a throne (with a wooden spoon in one hand for royal scepter). Uberto gets down on one knee beside her and holds her other hand reverentially, while Vespone is pushed to the floor, face forward, where he glumly serves as a footstool for Serpina.