Waitress on Top

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s celebrated baroque farce “La Serva Padrona” (“The Maid Made Mistress”) has been re-imagined in contemporary Hong Kong. Sung in Italian with spoken dialogue in English, this one-act comedy is as bubbly as a glass of prosecco and just as intoxicating.

With “Waitress on Top”, the creative team of Peter Gordon and Marco Iannelli set out to prove that opera is for everyone.

In Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s 1733 comic opera La Serva Padrona (“The Maid Made Mistress”), a maid sets her sights on her boss, and through a combination of flirtatious behaviour and well-meant duplicity, convinces him that he has really loved her all along. It is, of course, a story that has played out in many times and many places. The work is small and intimate with a deceptive simplicity that belies the sophistication of the music, allowing a fusion between comic theatre and comic opera.

This new “operatic musical” by Gordon and Iannelli (with story and dialogue based on a play by Peter Gordon), takes Pergolesi’s sly, wry and perky arias and duets and augments them with arias from Gaetano Donizetti’s classic comic operas “Don Pasquale” and “La figlia del reggimento”.

The story in an Italian restaurant … somewhere in Hong Kong (but it could just as easily be Shanghai, Singapore or Manchester). Uberto is the very uptight Italian boss and maitre d’, while Serpina is the not-very-conscientious local young woman he’s hired as waitress and who causes him no end of trouble. There’s another fellow working there but we’re not sure where he’s from because no one ever allows him to say anything.

On the menu

A restaurant (Italian, of course).
A harried bachelor boss.
A budding female entrepreneur, currently a waitress.
A helpful (if completely silent) waiter.
A threatening chef.
A concert pianist playing a restaurant gig.

On screen

“Waitress on Top” was filmed live at Hong Kong’s iconic Peninsula Hotel in August for the Italian Cultural Institute in Hong Kong. It opens at Broadway Circuit at HK Elements on 4 December 2021 and will be broadcast over RTHK later in the year.

Serpina, your waitress (Etta Fung, soprano)
Uberto, the boss (Isaac Droscha, baritone)
Vespone, the waiter (Chen Yong, tenor)
Pianist, Wei-En Hsu

Musical director: Marco Iannelli
Script: Peter Gordon
Director: Jonathan Finnigan
Producer: Lorna Chan

On stage

Etta Fung and Isaac Droscha on stage at the Y Theatre.

“Waitress on Top” was produced on stage for the Italian Cultural Institute in Hong Kong in 2019.

Creative team

We want to prove that opera is for everyone. These special productions will delight those both those who already know their way around the opera house — but especially, those who have never been before!

Peter Gordon & Marco Iannelli

Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books. He has been delivering regular opera talks for the Dante Alighieri Society, Opera Hong Kong and other institutions for about 10 years, as well as translating subtitles and writing programme notes for local opera companies, and writes on opera for the local and regional press. He has been awarded the “Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia” by the Italian Government for his work on Italian culture.

Marco Iannelli is an award-winning Italian composer, musicologist and educator living in Hong Kong. He has worked with Teatro alla Scala (Milan), Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (Florence), the Opera Berlioz (Montpellier), Deutsche Oper (Berlin) and is the author of “The Cassandra Case” about Italian composer Vittorio Gnecchi. He has recently been music director for recent chamber opera productions in Hong Kong.

Isaac Droscha, Etta Fung and Chen Yong on stage, November 2020

Gordon and Iannelli’s new version of “Rita” by Gaetano Donizetti (2020-21) is available on YouTube.