Giovanni Pergolesi

La serva padrona, intermezzo in 2 acts

    Description by Brian Robins

    One of the most successful comic stage works of the entire eighteenth century, Pergolesi's intermezzo La serva padrona was first produced in Naples at the San Bartolomeo theater on September 5, 1733. The function of such works was to serve as an entr'acte piece between the acts of a substantial opera seria -- in this instance Pergolesi's own Il prigioniero superbo, a work subsequently eclipsed by the fame of the intermezzo.

    In keeping with the characteristics of the genre, the plot and design of La serva padrona are extremely straightforward; there are only two short acts, and only three characters, one of whom is a mute male servant. The two singing parts are for a middle-aged man, Umberto, and his pert servant Serpina, both drawn from the traditions of commedia dell'arte. The plot concerns Serpina's tricking Umberto into marriage. Pergolesi's music clothes this inconsequential but naturalistic domestic drama in a rich vein of characterization and vitality; the simplicity of means employed would prove enormously influential in the development of comic opera. It is this feature that has led to the mistaken idea that Pergolesi was the founder of opera buffa -- a distinction that more properly belongs to one of his teachers, Leonardo Vinci.

    Notwithstanding, the great success achieved by La serva padrona, particularly after its composer's premature death at the age of only 26, unquestionably laid the foundations for the great comic operas of Mozart. In the archetypal characters of the intermezzo we find the progenitors of the more subtly drawn personages of Mozart's Count, and Susanna or Despina. The rapid Europe-wide dissemination of La serva padrona also hastened the reform of the stilted conventions of serious opera, whose stiff formalism lacked the color, verve, and flexibility of the lowbrow newcomer. When it reached Paris in 1752, performances sparked off the famous Querelle des Bouffons, a bitter pamphlet war fought between proponents of Italian opera buffa, and those who supported traditional French classical opera. Few works of such modest pretensions have achieved such great and lasting influence over the course of the development of music.


    1. Sinfonia. Presto assai (spurious)
    2. No. 1, Aspettare e non venire
    3. No. 2, Quest è per me disgrazia
    4. No. 3, Stizzoso, mio stizzoso
    5. No. 4, Lo conosco a quegliocchietti
    6. No. 1, A Serpina penserete
    7. No. 2, Son imbrogliato io già
    8. No. 3, Contento tu sarai

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 16009
    2014 Tactus TC 711606
    2009 Accent 10123
    2008 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88697281822
    2007 Tactus 711604
    2005 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 82876683572
    2004 Urania 268
    2003 Ensayo 9709
    2001 Ricordi 74321 68778-2
    1999 Arte Nova Classics 74321654202
    1999 Accent 96123
    1998 Bongiovanni 2221/22
    1996 Arts Music 47119
    1996 Meridian Records 84327
    1993 Omega Record Classics 1016
    1991 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77184
    1986 Hungaroton 12846
    Mondo Musica 91102
    Kicco Classic 41
    Berlin Classics 0091142
    Disques Pierre Verany 795111
    Ensayo 3425
    Fonit-Cetra Italia 33