Marco Dallara

Pergolesi: La Serva Padrona

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Italy's Tactus label has specialized in the resurrection of little-known music from the late Renaissance through the early Romantic eras, centering on the Italian Baroque. Here, however, Tactus enters a very crowded field of recordings; Pergolesi's comic intermezzo La serva padrona (1733) is the most often recorded of any Baroque opera. The label's specialist orientation is apparent in the omission of any translation of the text (booklet notes are in Italian, English, and French), but a full plot summary is provided. Although the buyer can choose from among many recordings of La serva padrona, this one merits consideration for several reasons. First and foremost, the comic edge of the libretto comes through in the performances by the young Italian soprano Federica Zanello as Serpina ("the maidservant from hell," as a writer for Goldberg Early Music put it) and baritone Michele Govi as her mark Uberto, financially secure as the personal ads would have it. The arias of La serva padrona are not difficult to sing, but it's easy to make a tune like "Stizzoso, mio stizzoso," with its catchy "zit . . . zit . . . Serpina vuol così" (shut up . . . this is how Serpina wants it) either too cute or too expansive. Zanello avoids both traps, and the singers keep the score to its proper modest dimensions, aided by engineering that conveys the sound of a small theater (the recording locale is not given). The informative booklet examines the reception history of La serva padrona, whose libretto belonged to a long comic tradition (albeit with a few new twists), and which was not particularly a hit in its first appearance. Art lovers may be surprised to see Ingres' languidly seductive Viscountess Othenin d'Haussonville on the cover (she would need to get in touch with her Ingres if she wanted to approach Serpina territory), and the backing Ensemble Regia Accademia is not as light in touch as the singers. On balance, this is a worthwhile La serva padrona for the thoughtful listener.

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