La Serva Padrona, composed on a libretto by Gennaro Antonio Federico in 1733, is an intermezzo divided into two interludes. It was originally designed to be performed between the acts of the opera seria Il prigioniero superbo by Pergolesi himself, staged at the Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples on the occasion of the birthday of the empress Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick, wife of the emperor Charles VI and mother of the empress Marie Therese of Augsburg. That very same libretto had been used by almost every composer in Naples and therefore was already popular in a number of successful versions. The definition of believable characters and the solid realism of the short story, revolving almost entirely around the characters’ psychology made of the libretto a success. Pergolesi’s genius turned it into a masterpiece.
Locked in my room, I recite the characters’ parts passionately and study my voice: its inflections, the tempo and pauses, in short the emphasis a man uses when he’s at the mercy of his passions. I then identify the right tempo and melody in order to allow the singers to express those passions by the means of harmony. I put the ideas on paper, try them on the harpsichord. When I feel the same emotion I wanted to express I judge I have succeeded; if I don’t, I look again for inspiration until I feel I’ve achieved my goal”.
Bellini’s premature death allowed finally Donizetti to take the title of “Main Italian composer” left vacant by Rossini a decade before. On the other end, his sickness and death spared him the humiliation of being ousted again by the irresistible rise of Verdi.