Pergolesi: La Serva Padrona / Dallara, Zanello, Govi, Regia

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For a work of this importance, there have been remarkably few recordings of Pergolesi’s delicious little intermezzo La Serva Padrona (The Housekeeper-Boss). Composed in 1733 to be performed between the acts of the composer’s opera seria Il Prigionier superbo, the piece ignited the splendidly hysterical Querelle des bouffons in Paris in 1752, pitting supporters of Italian opera (led by Rousseau) against fans of French opera (typified by Rameau). Perhaps more significantly, Pergolesi’s comedy seemed to indicate the direction in which the operatic winds were blowing–away from heavy duty tragedy and towards the buffo comedies of the nascent classical era.

The work is simplicity itself. Its two acts last barely forty-five minutes and contain five arias, two duets, a finale, and lots of secco recitative. No single number lasts much longer than four minutes, and several of the recitatives are bigger than the arias. The plot is rudimentary: Serpina the maid is so pushy that her bachelor employer, Uberto, decides to get married simply to get her under the control of the household’s new mistress. Serpina, seeing her chance, decides that she will marry Uberto herself, and after she arranges her own trumped up wedding to a stranger Uberto realizes that he loves her and all ends as planned.

Pergolesi’s music seems to have been designed to show off in the most schematic way all that was most appealing in the Italian school. The scoring is paired down to strings and continuo; the accompaniments are simple, the characters (only two of them) come from the middle and working classes, the action moves swiftly, and best of all, the tunes are pure vocal gold. Consider, for example, the sweetly lyrical aria, “A Serpina penserete”. Music historians, scholars, and theoreticians have never been able to wrap their brains around a style dependent on quality of melody as its primary constituent–it really is unanalyzable–and the result has always been a tendency to disparage Italian music as compared to the German or French schools, especially when those doing the analyzing happen to be German or French. Audiences, of course, have no such difficulties, hence the Querelle des bouffons and other, similar controversies throughout history.

This performance, fortunately, is quite a good one. As Uberto baritone Michele Govi sings with firm tone and he acts well with the voice; only a weakness in his lower register prevents him from being ideal. Federica Zanello’s soprano sounds a bit heavy, dare I say “matronly?” for the waspish Serpina, but she uses what she has intelligently and she is never unpleasant to listen to. The Ensemble Regia Accademia, a pick-up group drawn from various northern Italian orchestras, plays well under the direction of Marco Dallara, and the engineering sounds warm and well-balanced. As I said at the start, it’s very odd that there are so few choices available for this work, but this one will do nicely.

-- David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: TC711604

  • UPC: 8007194104332

  • Label: Tactus

  • Composer: Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

  • Conductor: Marco Dallara

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Ensemble Regia Accademia

  • Performer: Federica Zanello, Michele Govi