Pergolesi La Serva Padrona
A spirited performance of this evergreen squib (a landmark in the history of opera buffa, and a work which, 20 years after its first performance in Naples, was to become a rallying-point for the pro-Italian faction in the Guerre des bouffons in Paris). As La Serva Padrona was originally merely an intermezzo played between the acts of an opera seria by Pergolesi, no overture exists; for this performance one has been borrowed from another opera seria of his written two years later. The original duet ending has also been replaced by a longer one used in later productions; but the original has usefully been added in an appendix (not an “epilogue”, as the booklet-note calls it).
The work’s appeal lies in its vivacity and its unpretentious, well characterized treatment of a familiar commedia dell’arte plot. Gilbert Bezzina, with a vigorous, slightly rough-toned but tidy period string ensemble, certainly keeps things moving well – Uberto’s aria “Son imbrogliato” is taken at top speed – and a pleasing feature here is the flexible timing of the recitatives, whose words are given real point. Full advantage of this isn’t equally taken in arias, however. Isabelle Poulenard rightly represents Serpina as pert and volatile though not as a termagant; but there are further subtle nuances of colour she could have introduced into her sly mock-penitent aria, where she is content to be merely sweet-voiced. (She adds agreeable ornamentation to da capo sections of her arias.) The image of a perplexed Uberto torn between frustration, indignation and fondness is a difficult one to project: Philippe Cantor does his utmost with this, but is somewhat hampered by too close a recorded balance that makes him sound overloud and over-vehement. Since there is a mute third character in this playlet who is essential to the action, it is certainly justifiable, in a non-visual performance, that he should be permitted to add guffaws, gulps and grunts in response to events around him. Altogether, this is an enjoyable recording, the best now available of this piece.'