La serva padrona

La serva padrona (The Servant Turned Mistress) is an opera buffa by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736) to a libretto by Gennaro Federico, after the play by Jacopo Angello Nelli. The opera is only 45 minutes long and was originally performed as an intermezzo between the acts of a larger serious opera. (The same libretto was set by Giovanni Paisiello in 1781.)

La serva padrona
Opera buffa by G. B. Pergolesi
Title page of a vintage opera program
TranslationThe Servant Turned Mistress
LibrettistGennaro Federico
Based onLa serva padrona
by Jacopo Angello Nelli
5 September 1733 (1733-09-05)

Performance history

La serva padrona was originally an intermezzo to Pergolesi's opera seria, Il prigionier superbo (The Proud Prisoner). The two were premiered at the Teatro San Bartolomeo on 5 September 1733, the first performance after a 1732 earthquake in Naples had caused all theatres to be closed. Both works were written to celebrate the birthday of Holy Roman Empress Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel a few days earlier, 28 August.[1]

Il prigioniero superbo was unsuccessful in its day[2] and is not a recognized title in today's operatic repertoire. Eventually the two pieces were separated, and La serva padrona went on to enjoy fame throughout Europe for years after its premiere. The importance of this intermezzo can hardly be overlooked in the history of opera. With a new finale, the French version played a large part in the Querelle des Bouffons. It was appealing because of its presentation of characters that were relatable to any audience, namely the cunning maid and her aging master. La serva padrona is often seen as the quintessential piece that bridges the gap from the Baroque to the Classical period. Owing to its importance, over time it came to be known as more than just an intermezzo and was performed as a stand-alone work.


Role Voice type Premiere cast[3]
5 September 1733
Uberto, an old manbuffo bassGioacchino Corrado
Serpina, his maidsopranoLaura Monti
Vespone, his servantsilent actor


Intermezzo 1 – Dressing room

Uberto, an elderly bachelor, is angry and impatient with his maidservant, Serpina, because she has not brought him his chocolate today. Serpina has become so arrogant that she thinks she is the mistress of the household. Indeed, when Uberto calls for his hat, wig and coat, Serpina forbids him from leaving the house, adding that from then on he will have to obey her orders. Uberto thereupon orders Vespone to find him a woman to marry so that he can rid himself of Serpina.

Intermezzo 2 – Same dressing room

Serpina convinces Vespone to trick Uberto into marrying her. She informs Uberto that she is to marry a military man named Tempesta. She will be leaving his home and apologizes for her behavior. Vespone, disguised as Tempesta, arrives and, without saying a word, demands 4,000 crowns for a dowry. Uberto refuses to pay such a sum. Tempesta threatens him to either pay the dowry or marry the girl himself. Uberto agrees to marry Serpina. Serpina and Vespone reveal their trick; but Uberto realizes that he has loved the girl all along. They will marry after all; and Serpina will now be the true mistress of the household.



The scores of the opera vary wildly. Edwin F. Kalmus has a score with massive omissions, wrong notes, and much spoken dialogue. Boosey & Hawkes has the score in an operetta adaptation by Seymour Barab, with highly simplified accompaniment and much spoken dialogue. Casa Ricordi presents the opera as sung-through and is the version most used in performance today. W. W. Norton & Company includes excerpts of the full score (for strings and continuo) that has numerous melodic differences from the Ricordi edition, but that correlate with the accompanying recording by Siegmund Nimsgern.[4]

Film versions



  1. "Prigioniero superbo, Il" by Dale E. Monson, Grove Music Online
  2. Grout and Williams (2003), p. 232
  3. Casaglia, Gherardo (2005)."La serva padrona, 5 September 1733". L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).
  4. Palisca, pp. 1–15
  5. La serva padrona (1962) on IMDb
  6. La serva padrona (1999) on IMDb
  7. Program listing, ABV Channel 2, listed at 8:30, in the 1 November 1962 edition of The Age, via Google News Archive
  8. La serva padrona (1962 TV) on IMDb


  • Grout, Donald Jay and Hermine Weigel Williams (2003), A Short History of Opera, Columbia University Press, pp. 229–232. ISBN 0-231-11958-5
  • Palisca, Claude V. Norton Anthology of Western Music: Volume 2: Classic to Modern. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001 ISBN 0-393-97691-2
  • Warrack, John and Ewan West (1992) The Oxford Dictionary of Opera. ISBN 0-19-869164-5



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