The old melodramatic structure of the seventeenth century, in which heroic and comic characters interacted, slowly relegating the latter to a peripheral isolation within the economy of the plot, was rejected by a need for reform which produced the intermezzi. This genre was internationally successful on stage and produced a rich repertoire, among which Pergolesi’s La serva padrona shines brightly. It had been composed in the shadow of Il prigioniero superbo, which was performed in 1733 on the stage of Teatro San Bartolomeo; and it would leave a strong mark on the musical imagination of the eighteenth century, surviving all trends and remaining as an example of musical style which one could trust fearlessly. It would be at the centre of a querelle which would add to its mythical status, and it represents an arrival point in the development of the form of the intermezzo. This genre sought to safeguard an artistic category which had been banned; it found a space of its own on the reluctant stages only by virtue of the wishes and needs of the audience, which could not renounce the “fun” provided by skilful comical artists.
During his short life, Pergolesi tried his hand thrice with this genre, which was, by then, doomed but not destined to oblivion, and he produced a significant sample of its possibilities. The fate of the intermezzi was in fact decreed both by the dances, increasingly favoured within the articulation of the theatrical productions, and by the success of the new Neapolitan creation, the “commedia per musica”. Between 1732 and 1734, Pergolesi set to music Nerina e Nibbio, inserted between the acts of La Salustia (1732), and probably due to his cooperation with Domenico Carcajus: here he exercised himself within the framework of a solid performance tradition. Later he wrote Livietta e Tracollo, which was conceived to be played as an intermission to Adriano in Siria (1734): here he made recourse to some strategies which would subsequently reappear, in a modified form, on the European stages. Finally, he composed La serva padrona, the ideal ripe fruit of a glorious season whose harvest would be gathered in the following output of comic operas.
The agile action is grounded on a thin and reliable plot, founded on the “servant’s” wit against the naive master. Though this mechanism was already trite, as it had been used in all of its possible forms, it is however enlivened by the refined dramatic project by Gennarantonio Federico. The librettist was naturally influenced by the creative will of the composer, who had already written Lo frate ‘nnamorato in 1732, a work of undeniable complexity and modernity. This became, for the composer, a passkey providing him access to the orchestra of the Neapolitan Royal Chapel. Through a constellation of concertato situations, and certainly due also to the contribution of the performing singers/actors, a new social and theatrical charter was established, abandoning the old clichés in favour of new characterizations, in line with the coeval trends in the contemporaneous theatrical scene. The librettist chose a poetical style modelled upon the new theatrical frontiers opened by Metastasio without losing sight of the skill of the engaged companies (an aspect on which the Caesarean poet was always alert). Gioacchino Corrado and Laura Monti, the intermezzo’s first performers, were artists who guaranteed a professional level and a thorough knowledge of the acting techniques. It is not by chance that Serpina, at a certain point, has to make room for her primadonna, in a meta-theatrical gesture of self promotion. This is directed both to Uberto, but particularly to the fascinated audience who filled the room, and aimed at praising the features of her own physique: “Non son graziosa? / Non son bella e spiritosa? / Su, mirate leggiadria, / ve’, che brio, che maestà” [“Am I not graceful? Am I not beautiful and spirited? Lo, admire my elegance, see how lively and majestic I am”]. Indeed, the catalogue of scenic and expressive solutions lined up by Federico aims at underpinning the actors’ skill and at providing the composer with a variety of musical situations in a whirlwind of real and faked affections by the “usual” couple.
Serpina demonstrates a changing disposition, founded on a peerless balancing in her strategy of “warfare” and “love” (as in Monteverdi’s “madrigali guerrieri et amorosi”). The lucidity of her “passion” leads her to play all the multifaceted resources of her steadfast personality; the tactics she brilliantly elaborates aim at shaking the tenuous barriers of her grumpy old master (who is, however, certainly less decrepit than he is usually depicted), with a refined catalogue of efficacious traps in which the desirous and tameable prey is all too eager to fall.
The self-assuredness with which the servant bursts into the scene/antechamber, quarrelling with Vespone, is exemplary: her anger refers obliquely to her master, who is losing his patience and, astonished, listens to her tirade after having had to wait for his morning chocolate.
Uberto’s initial agitation plays on a series of scenic and musical topoi, organized in a masterful fashion. A quatrain of octosyllables is set by Pergolesi in the typical “comic” style, with a quick syllabic singing and a repeated melodic itinerary, which is presented at an ever-higher pitch which amplifies the increasing degree of Uberto’s impatience. This strategy of musical comedy was destined for a long life, as proved by the fact that Mozart would use it, much later, to present Leporello. Then, there is a complex and eventful recitative which not only describes Uberto’s present unease (to which the dumb character of Vespone is sent to seek remedy), but also the past events, telling us about young Serpina’s “education”. The long recitative goes ahead of the action, revealing us the happy epilogue in which Serpina “alfin di serva diverrà padrona”, i.e. will eventually rule; in order to satisfy the audience, however, “bisogna risolversi in buon’ora”, i.e. it is necessary to quickly resolve so as to let the action proceed.
The female servant, enraged by the insolences of her male colleague (who is a “servant/master” in turn), affirms her dignity as a woman and the respect which is due to her, haranguing and claiming the acknowledgment of her status as a worker: “Adunque / perch’io son serva, ho da esser sopraffatta, / ho ad essere maltrattata? / No, signore, voglio esser rispettata / voglio esser riverita, come fossi / padrona, arcipadrona, padronissima” (“Thus, since I am a servant, should I be subjugated and mistreated? No, sir, I want to be respected, I want to be revered as a mistress, an arch-mistress, a super-mistress”).
Serpina’s bad temper characterizes the first intermezzo and is framed within the aria/manifesto “Stizzoso, mio stizzoso”. Written in the prescribed tripartite form, it stems Uberto’s excessive talking through an imperious demand for silence (“Bisogna, al mio divieto / star cheto e non parlare”: “When I so forbid [to speak], one needs to be quiet and not to speak”). Her vehement position is softened in the beautiful beginning of the first finale, which is entirely based on coquetries and subterfuges. Through these, Serpina aims at netting the serious Uberto: in his short tirade, he deploys a typical word-painting strategy on the word “volate” (“Troppo in alto voi volate”, “You fly too high”), and afterwards makes recourse to an affected and indifferent speech.
Serpina’s many faces will change during the second intermezzo, ranging from the tearful style (“A Serpina / penserete”, “You will think of Serpina”), though spiced up by her impudent asides (which, at the same time, are also as many implicit glosses for Uberto), to the remissive composure in the passages where she bides farewell to her master, as she has to get married with “capitan Tempesta”. This “Captain Storm” comes from the “commedia dell’arte”, the semi-improvised theatrical genre of the Italian masks, and its interpretation requires proxemics, i.e. behaviours and gestures, following Andrea Perrucci’s rules. Then, Serpina demonstrates also her “diplomatic” skill as a mediator between her rowdy fiancé and her outraged master, who is ill-disposed to satisfy the “officer’s” request for dowry but increasingly well-disposed to bind himself to “his” ragazza. The graceful joke of Vespone’s dressing-up as a furious character obtains the desired effects. The duet “Contento tu sarai”, indeed, is not free from a certain conventional character, both in the lyrics and music, and is often replaced (as happened already in the eighteenth century) by the duet “Per te ho io nel cuore”, from Il Flaminio by Pergolesi himself. It was this style of the composer from Jesi, with its widespread circulation throughout a music-loving Europe, which would make the Querelle des bouffons explode in 1752. It therefore became the symbol for a style in which, as maintained already by d’Alembert, “l’imitation de la nature et la vérité de l’expression” (“The imitation of nature and the truth of expression”) were fused together.
For three centuries, much ink has been spilled on the life of this composer, who was also an excellent violin player and performer; occasionally, his life has been romanticized under the influence of some nineteenth-century biographies and poems. The hard facts, sifted from within a fanciful literature, have been demonstrated through research undertaken recently in Jesi (Italy), supported by the scanty surviving documents, as well as by some memoirs citing him among the most famous Neapolitan men.
Between eighteenth and nineteenth century, some of his Italian biographers believed he had been born in Casoria. It is however to his Neapolitan biographers that the truth is owed. Giuseppe Sigismondo, a Neapolitan jurist and amateur composer who lived between 1739 and 1826, wrote: “He was born in 1702 in Jesi, in the Roman State, and precisely in a village known as La Pergola”. Later, Jesi was confirmed as his birth city by the Marquis of Villarosa in his Biographical Letter about Gio: Battista Pergolese’s life and homeland, and by Salvatore Di Giacomo in The four ancient Conservatories of music in Naples. The composer’s family, originally from La Pergola (thence their name), had in fact moved to Jesi two generations earlier.
The composer was born, indeed, on January 4th, 1710, to Francesco Andrea and Anna Vittoria Giorgi, and he lived in Jesi until the age of sixteen. The young Giambattista was taught grammar by Sebastiano Cittadini, while Francesco Santi, who was Chapel master of the Cathedral church and a gifted composer in turn, was in charge of his musical education, particularly as concerned the keyboard instruments. Giambattista, however, immediately favoured the violin; thus, his father, also thanks to the protection of nobleman Gabriele Ripanti, entrusted Giambattista to the care of the Bolognese Francesco Mondini. Mondini had important roles both as a violin and as a viola player in the orchestras of several local theatres, and he was known as “Checco da Jesi”, since at that time he lived in Jesi and served there as Chapel master.
Pergolesi’s father, in the meantime, had been appointed a sergeant of the public police; he administered the funds of a religious guild, the Confraternita del Buon Gesù; moreover, he also worked as a draughtsman for the local municipality and aristocracy, which comprised the two families of the Ghislieri and the Pianetti.
Thus, profiting from his prestigious position, which made him known to the most important local personalities, he requested a financial support to one of the Jesi noblemen whom he served. He wished, in fact, that his son – who was by now well-known to the aristocracy for his talent – could further his education in Naples and complete his studies there.
Consequently, Pergolesi moved to Naples between 1723 and 1725, where he became a boarding student at the Conservatorio dei poveri di Gesù Cristo, the male Conservatory run by the Church. A document about him is cited by both Sigismondo and the Marquis of Villarosa: “At first, he began to study violin playing, of which, possibly, he had some previous knowledge. In any case, he learnt how to play it under the guidance of Master Domenico de Matteis. While practising and trying by himself on the violin, he made ascending and descending passages in semitones, new and graceful embellishments, or new kinds of appoggiaturas with such melodies that his very fellow violin students, enchanted, had sometimes to interrupt their own practice, so amazed they were by the harmonies created by their colleague. They could not conceal this from Master de Matteis, who wanted, one evening, to hide himself in order to hear him. He was similarly surprised: so he went, embraced him, and asked him who had taught him those modulations he performed on that instrument. Pergolesi replied that nothing of what he did had been taught him by anybody, and that it came naturally under his fingers when playing. De Matteis questioned him whether he would have dared writing that down and Pergolesi promised to do so; the following day, he had the entire Sonatina ready for his master and elegantly modulated…”. The wonderful melodic and chromatic features of his instrumental music would later find a huge field of expression in his output, which demonstrates his high compositional accomplishment, and his gift and inspiration for both sacred and theatrical music. This is proved by his first work, written as he left the Conservatorio dei poveri di Gesù Cristo at the age of twenty-one. It is La Fenice sul rogo, ossia La morte di San Giuseppe, premiered on March 19th, 1731, at the Oratory of San Giuseppe in the Basilica of St Philip Neri, also known as “Girolamini”. He had regularly attended that church as a Conservatory student, to perform there as a “little master”, playing the violin and singing at the most important liturgical events. This “melodramma” (as it is defined by the composer on the title-page) represents the young musician’s inner microcosm. He gazes at the mystery of Christ’s life through the eyes of the Son of God who sees his earthly father dying: the parable of the Stabat Mater is already present here. His life as a composer began with the death of St Joseph, whom Christ introduced into heaven, and it would be fulfilled with the death of the Son, as observed by the “Mater dolorosa”, the grieving mother, who introduces humankind into heaven.
Following the success of this Oratorio, together with his last work for the Conservatory (“Li prodigi della divina grazia nella conversione e morte di san Guglielmo duca d’Aquitania”), Pergolesi was in high demand as an operatic composer. Thus he wrote the “dramma per musica” La Sallustia for the Theatre San Bartolomeo in 1732; it was followed by the comedy Lo frate ‘nnammorato, written for the Teatro dei Fiorentini, which became the most acclaimed work by Pergolesi until then.
On October 27th, 1732, he was appointed an adjunct organist at the Royal Chapel, in consideration of “the Royal Chapel’s need for individuals who can compose in the modern fashion”. From that moment on, he entered the Gotha of the fashionable composers, becoming a leading figure in the Neapolitan cultural life.
[English translation Chiara Bertoglio]
After careful analyses that lasted around half a century, it is renowned that Pergolesi didn’t write most of the instrumental music attributed to him. A large number of manuscripts across European libraries under the signature, “del Pergolese,” testifies the great popularity the author reached during half of the eighteenth century, especially if compared with other contemporaries. Only five out of the sixty-three instrumental attributions belongs to him: a Sinfonia a Violoncello Solo (F major), a Sonata [for harpsichord] (A major), a Sonata per organo (F major), a Concerto di Violino Solo con piú Strumenti (B-flat major), and a “Sonata di Violino e Basso” (G major). The latter composition is proposed in this CD, together with a Siciliana, probably a manuscript written before 1732. At the time, the composer was the first violin in the orchestra of the Poveri di Gesù Cristo Conservatory, as well as capo paranza [a sort of musician’s leader in Neapolitan folk music] in liturgical performances in churches and Viceroyalty of Naples, with groups of students of the same conservatory. Nevertheless, scholars recently discovered other instrumental and sacred works with strong Pergolesian language that is waiting to be authenticated.
Carlo Torriani: Born in Milan, he began singing studies with Sara Corti Sforni and Maria Luisa Cioni. After numerous awards on various competitions, he debuted in Il Tabarro (Teatro Bonci, Cesena). Talented for comic characters, he decided to devote himself to the roles of "buffo", appearing as Don Bartolo (The Barber of Seville by Rossini and Paisiello), Dulcamara (L'Elisir d'Amore), Schaunard, Benoit, and Alcindoro (La Boheme) and many others. Active and appreciated as a stage director, he oversaw the preparation of numerous works such as La Boheme, Cavalleria Rusticana, Nabucco, I Pagliacci, Tosca, and Rigoletto at the Ariberto Theater and at the Teatro Chiesa in Milan, as well as Leonardo Leo's Drosilla and Nesso first modern performance at the Leonardo Leo Festival. He collaborates with numerous conductors including Daniele Agiman, Joseph Debrincat, Dariusz Mikulski, Daniele Ferrari, Chrissantos Alisafis, Carlo Ipata, Valter Borin performing throughout Europe as well as the United States, Canada, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Japan, Cyprus, and Lebanon. He recorded CDs and DVDs with world premiere for record labels such as Kiccomusic, Dynamic, Tactus, and Brilliant.
Christian Deliso: Native of Naples, he studied piano, composition and conducting at the San Pietro a Majella Music Conservatory of Naples. In 2003 he graduated from Chigiana Musical Academy with Gianluigi Gelmetti. In 2004 he studied at Pescara Musical Academy with Donato Renzetti (Opera) and Gilberto Serembe (Symphonic). As assistant conductor of Antonino Fogliani, Balacs Kocsar, Corrado Rovaris and Daniel Oren, he attended several productions like: Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni), Gianni Schicchi (Puccini), Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti), Rigoletto (Verdi), at Teatro San Carlo (Naples), Comunale di Bologna, Rossini Festival (Bad Wildbad) and Teatro alla Scala (Milan). In 2009 he conducted the St. Petersburg Philarmonic Orchestra, and in March 2011 he was at the Majestic Theatre (Boston) with Traviata. Since that time, he performed in Italy and around the World with talented musicians like Michele Campanella, Alexej Golovin, Lauri Kankunnen, and Maria Safariants, with orchestras such as Pomeriggi Musicali Finland Lappeenranta Symphony Orchestra, Szeged Orchestra and Choir.
Fanzago Baroque: Founded in 2004 by Vincenzo Bianco and Leonardo Massa, the Ensemble owes its name to the baroque architect and sculptor Cosimo Fanzago, where the rhythmic and sonorous aspect of Nature becomes Music, like thought and language of matter. The work of the Ensemble is based on the study of researching, recovering and performing with original instruments, built between 1600 and 1800, unpublished scores of the Neapolitan, national and European musical heritage, through the collaboration of soloists of international prestige. The instrumental work consists of strings and basso continuo, enriched with typical instruments of the different musical traditions, that, from east to west, have passed through the centuries round the ancient city of Naples. The Ensemble, composed of Neapolitan musicians formed with the greatest contemporary virtuosi, is actively present in the national and international concert scene and collaborates with the most prestigious baroque groups and Institutes of Early Music. The work of deepening and the rediscovery of ancient Neapolitan and European manuscripts makes it presently engaged in various projects, including first world performances such as unpublished Bach cantatas and sonatas, unpublished Mozart and instrumental music of the Neapolitan school between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Its repertoire includes works and cantatas by Pergolesi, Porpora, Leo,Vinci, Sabatino, Durante and Veneziano. It performs in prestigious venues and concert halls of international importance.
Marina Zyatkova: Born in Russia, where studied in Moscow Choir Academy with Svetlana Nesterenko. From 2004 until 2006 she was a member of Opera Studio Nederland in Amsterdam. She debuted in numerous roles such as Mademoiselle Silberklang (Der Schauspieldirektor), Adele (Die Fledermaus), and Pamina (Die Zauberflöte). In 2006, she performed the opera Ayodhya of the Thai composer Somtow Sucharitkul, he wrote the role of Golden Deer specifically for her. To this performance followed: Adina (L'Élisir d'Amore, Opera de Toulon), La Bergere and La Chauve- Souris (L'enfant et les sortileges (Zaterdag Matinee, Concertgebouw Amsterdam), Giulia (La Scala di Seta, Rossini Festival in Bad Wildbad) and Despina (Cosi fan Tutte, De Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam). She appeared on television programs ARTE (The Taste of Rossini) and DVD in the role of Waldfogel in Wagner's Siegfried under the direction of Zubin Mehta at the Palace of Arts in Valencia (UNITEL - CLASSIC). She won the "Opera de Marseille" International Competition in 2005 and Grand Prix at "1st Strasbourg International Lyric Art Competition" in 2007, with Barbara Hendricks as jury president.
Vincenzo L.A. Bianco: Violinist, Neapolitan trained, violin teacher in Naples at the Secondary School, he obtained the Classical Maturity at the “A. Genovesi “ High School, at the same time he studied with the teacher G. Francavilla, first viola of the old Scarlatti Orchestra, graduating with the maestro F. Mezzena at the Conservatory of Pescara. He obtained a “Laurea in II Livello per l’ Alta Formazione Musicale” at "S. Pietro a Majella" Conservatory in Naples. He deepened his executive practice of the baroque violin with Enrico Onofri and with Chiara Banchini, with Nicholas Robinson and Alessandro Ciccolini, specializing at the Conservatories "D. Cimarosa "of Avellino and" S. Pietro a Majella " of Naples. He collaborates with formations of ancient music (MusicaPerduta, Musica Sacra Basel, Concert Dei Cavalieri, Talenti Volcanici, Il Labirinto, The Soloists of the Chapel of Pietà deiTurchini, Ensemble Le Musiche da Camera, Ensemble Carlo Gesualdo and Fanzago Baroque Ensemble ,of which he is leader and founder) and also with important Neapolitan Orchestras (Orchestra del Teatro S. Carlo - direction by Jeffrey Tate and Riccardo Muti, Orchestra A. Scarlatti and Orchestra of the Conservatory S. Pietro a Majella, Orchestra I Soloists of Naples and I Soloists of S. Carlo "). His solo activity at Baroque festivals and international festivals allowed him to play in several European and Italian cities such as Sofia, Basel, Munich, Hildesheim, Vienna, Oslo, Rome, Assisi. Milan, Naples. With Musica Perduta he performed in the "Festespielmusik" at the " Händel-Haus" of Halle, in Varese, Todi and in Naples,( where he performed ) performing the cantata "Apollo e Dafne" by G.F. Händel for the owners of the " Händel-Haus" Museum from London. In Naples he collaborates with the Center of Ancient Music "Pietà dei Turchini" where he performs concerts and unpublished Neapolitan sonatas. Besides recording for different record companies with different groups of ancient and baroque music, he recorded for OFM Conv. ,between 2004 and 2007, three volumes of "Incanto Serafico" for which he received a letter of praise from Pope Benedict XVI.
As an interpreter, instrumentalist and composer he cultivates his passion for musicology and deals with research and promotion of unpublished Neapolitan and European ancient scores, as well as of the historical re-evaluation of the Neapolitan Violin School. As a composer and transcriber of unpublished works, he has written and performed various music for the Neapolitan Church and for shorts films and film fragments, writing some music for Giancarlo Siani's film "Ci devo pensare".
He was co-founder of "I Figlioli di Santa Maria di Loreto". He currently collaborates with the baroque ensemble "Musica Perduta" of Perugia. He plays an instrument from 1780.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (b Iesi, Marche, 4 Jan 1710; d Pozzuoli, nr Naples, 16 March 1736). Italian composer. He was a leading figure in the rise of Italian comic opera in the 18th century.