MARK BULLER | COMPOSER
THE PUFFED-UP PRIMA DONNA (2015)
soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, bass-baritone; piano
Libretto by Charles Anthony Silvestri
Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera/HGOco for the Opera to Go! program
Premiered by Opera to Go! January 2016 at Heinen Theatre, Houston
The Puffed-Up Prima Donna is a spinoff of The Pastry Prince. The two operas may be performed back-to-back as two acts of a single, 92-minute opera.
ANNAMARIA, an actress in the commedia dell'arte troupe Mezzo-soprano
GIACOMO, leader of the troupe Bass-baritone
Signor Giancarlo, the DUKE of Bologna Baritone
GINA, Giacomo's daughter Soprano
ALFREDO, an actor in the troupe Tenor
Cast of the original production
Julia Fox, soprano
Megan Berti, mezzo-soprano
Alex Scheuermann, tenor
Wes Landry, baritone
Eric Delagrange, bass-baritone
Teruhiko Toda, piano and music director
Commissioned for HGOco by Ms. Adrienne Bond
The opera opens on Giacomo, leader of the commedia dell'arte troupe; he is struggling (and failing) to compose a new opera commissioned by the Duke of Bologna. The opera is to receive its premiere in a mere two weeks, at the wedding of his daughter, Gina, to the Duke. Gina reassures him that all will be fine, and Giacomo recalls with fondness, and sadness, how his little girl, a 'gift' from his late wife, has grown up. But in the middle of his aria, the troupe's resident diva, AnnaMaria, interrupts, voicing her concerns about his amateurish choreography. She recalls in an aria the days of her former glory at La Scala, noting that even there she was shown no respect for her considerable talent.
Alfredo visits the Duke and tells him of an exciting new opportunity: he will soon be auditioning for the position of lead tenor at La Scala, and would like the Duke's permission to take a leave of absence. The Duke willingly grants it. Alfredo leaves to rehearse, and Gina enters, distraught with the looming specter of wedding planning. The Duke reassures her, and they sing a love duet: "Whether high, or whether low,/Wheresoever you may go,/I will love you,/Forever and ever."
AnnaMaria has been eavesdropping on the couple, and is incensed to hear their snide remarks disparaging her "diva-ness." In a fit of rage, she sings an aria recounting her father's advice to her when she was a young performer ("Show your strenght!") and angrily rehearses her personal mantra ("Resist! Insist! Persist!").
The troupe rehearses the finale dance scene from Giacomo's opera for the Duke and Gina's wedding: "Oh joyful day!" It is an unmitigated disaster, leading AnnaMaria to once again insist that her choreography be considered. She is shot down, and storms off in a huff. Giacomo changes the subject: he'd like to hear Alfredo's audition aria. The tenor obliges, and his singing of "Gli ucelli fanno" brings AnnaMaria back into the room. Once again, she cannot help but lend her aid, and attempt to give him an impromptu voice lesson, which only makes him sound worse. Ignored by both Alfredo and Giacomo, and feeling unneeded, she stomps her foot and again storms out.
AnnaMaria attempts to go directly to the Duke to force Giacomo to use her choreography. But upon seeing Gina enter the room, she attempts to cause conflict between the happy couple by falling into his arms, implying a liason. But Gina sees through the ruse. Alone with the Duke, she states her resolve: "You and I are in love, and we are going to be married; and no puffed-up Prima Donna can break us apart, no matter how important she thinks she is!"
Once again, the rehearsal for Giacomo's opera is a disaster. AnnaMaria, enraged, loses her temper and lashes out at everyone. Finally, she again stomps her foot. The troupe strikes back, making fun of what has become her signature move in a showstopping ensemble, "She stomps her silver slipper!" As each of the singers recounts his or her run-in with the Prima Donna, Giacomo begins to realize that they have not been wholly innocent themselves, and have become the bullies. They resolve to be kinder to her. After all, they realize, she is very talented, and has a wealth of experience. Finally, they examine her choreography.
Alfredo runs into AnnaMaria and apologizes. Taken aback, she discuss with him life at La Scala, and recounts what it was like to sing in that hallowed hall. With their newfound friendship, the mentor-student relationship allows her to give him a voice lesson, which makes his audition aria much more successful.
Gina is picking out her wedding gown, with the help of AnnaMaria. The diva, says Gina, could be like a mother to her. They begin to sing a duet, and are gradually joined by the rest of the troupe, which sings of the joys of family and friendship. Now, it is AnnaMaria's turn to apologize.
The wedding is a success, as is the opera and AnnaMaria's choreography. In a gesture of goodwill, Giacomo names AnnaMaria "Prima Donna of the Dance." Alfredo announces that he has won the position of lead tenor at La Scala, and will be leaving the troupe to follow in AnnaMaria's footsteps. The five joyfully sing their favorite number from The Pastry Prince: "Ah, the sweet life!"