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.
Vincenzo Bellini maintained throughout his life a strong bond with his hometown, where he lived till the age of 16. Some argue that his rejection for rules and rutine resulted somehow from that archaic and provincial world. Born to “seduce and conquest” Bellini indeed broke into the Italian musical lands cape as someone coming from another world. May be that’s part of the reason why he was able unveil and unleash the potential of musical drama, far and beyond the traditional bonds and cliché of the Neapolitan school.
Domenico Cimarosa’s most successful opera, The Secret Marriage, was composed on a libretto written by Giovanni Bertati, a Venetian employed as court poet in Vienna, on a subject very popular at the time. The story was in fact at the centre of a series of 6 paintings by William Hogarth, the Marriage in Fashion, le Mariage à la Mode, published in London between 1743 and 1745, depicting the bad consequences of a wedding between a penniless aristocrat and a rich bourgeois. Bertati the librettist turns the social satire into a mockery of bourgeois, eager to ennoble but happy to save half of the dowry when the opportunity arises.