Serva padrona, La (‘The Maid as Mistress’)
- Gordana Lazarevich
(‘The Maid as Mistress’)
Intermezzo in two parts by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi to a libretto by Gennaro Antonio Federico after Jacopo Angello Nelli’s play; Naples, Teatro S Bartolomeo, 5 September 1733.
La serva padrona was first performed between the acts of Pergolesi’s opera seria Il prigioniero superbo, commissioned for the birthday celebrations of the Empress Elisabeth Christina, consort of Charles VI. It became one of the most popular examples of intermezzo in the 18th century. Federico based his text on a spoken play of the same title written by Nelli (1673–1767), an erudite member of the Accademia dei Rozzi in Siena. Published in 1731, the play contains the essence of Federico’s plot, which uses familiar stock characters of the commedia dell’arte.
For two decades after its creation La serva padrona survived in the repertory almost intact, with minimal changes; this was most unusual for the genre. During that period it was performed in more than 60 theatres in Italy and throughout Europe, from Malta and Spain in the south to St Petersburg in the north. The only change to the music over those two decades occurred in Act 2, where the original duet, ‘Contento tu sarai’, was sometimes supplanted by ‘Per te ho io nel core’ from Pergolesi’s ...