La Serva Padrona
La Serva Padrona is a comic opera in two acts by G. Federico and G.B. Pergolesi.
Usually rendered The Maid Turned Mistress in English.
The original text
La Serva Padrona the oldest comic opera (or “Intermezzo” as it was then called) to still be staged today, was first performed in 1733. When it was again staged in Paris in 1753, it played an important role in the “Guerre des Bouffons,” (the musical war) being waged between the protagonists of the French national opera and those of the simpler, more light-hearted Italian-type comic opera.
When the curtain opens we find Uberto bemoaning his fate. “I am employing Serpina to keep my house in order,” he sings, “but she does just as she pleases.”
When Serpina refuses to bring him a cup of chocolate and then slaps the poor servant, Vespone, because she has not carried out one of her unreasonable orders, things become unbearable for Uberto. He resolves to dispose of Serpina's services; but, as he has employed her since she was a youngster, it is not easy. The only way to bring about a change in his domestic affairs would be for him to marry someone. Then he would no longer be required to keep a housekeeper and he would have a reasonable excuse for dismissing Serpina. But, in reality, and contrary to his better judgement, he really loves her, and in the second act, he expresses his doubts about his feelings about her. Serpina’s ideas run contrary, but they both want the same end result. If the wealthy old rascal is to marry, he must only marry her.
At the beginning of the second act, she actually sings of the love and affection she would have for him, but each time the tempo of her aria changes to allegro she reveals that she will not know how to handle her chosen husband if he does not allow her to do exactly as she wishes. She entices Vespone (whom she treated very badly earlier) into helping her in a plot to trap the Uberto. The plan called for Vespone to arrive disguised as a hot-tempered soldier, Captain Tempesta, who wants to claim her hand in marriage. "Captain Tempesta" insisted that Uberto should give her with a considerable dowry and threatens to draw his sword each time Uberto showed the slightest objection. There was just one condition whereby he would change his mind and forget about Serpina and the dowry. That was if Uberto married her.
Rather than part with his precious money, Uberto agrees to marry Serpina, which was not nearly as bad as being killed and much better than having to give a portion of his fortune to an aggresive soldier. Of course, as soon as the marriage was arranged, Vespone takes off her disguise leaving Uberto with no option but to make the best of his “maid turned mistress” but this was not really a problem.
Translations and adaptations
Performance history in South Africa
1952: The Federation of Music Societies (Eastern Cape) by arrangement with the University of Cape Town, presented The Maid Turned Servant in Port Elizabeth from April 28 till May 1, 1952, in Kingwilliamstown on May 3, 1952, in Umtata on May 5, 1952, Queenstown from May 6 – 8, 1952, and Grahamstown on May 10, 1952. The production had a cast that included Gregorio Fiasconaro (Uberto), Nellie do Toit (Serpina), and Jeanette Schatz (Vespone).
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