Vito Niccolò Marcello Antonio Giacomo Piccinni, or Niccolò Piccinni, lived from 1728 to 1800 in Naples, Rome and Paris. In his lifetime, he wrote around 130 operas and was known as one of the most prolific opera writers of his day. The piece that established him as an opera writer and launched his popularity among Italians was a comedy, first performed in 1760, called "La Cecchina," or The Good Daughter.
Giuseppe Verdi, the great Italian opera writer, called "La Cecchina" "the first true Italian comic opera." Comic opera, or opera buffa, was different from its more traditional counterpart, the serious or tragic opera, or opera seria. Themes were presented light-heartedly, the language was common speech and the settings were familiar, everyday circumstances. In the same way that rock-and-roll became a popular mass genre in the 20th Century, opera buffa was all the rage in 18th century Italy.
Piccinni's "La Cecchina" was based on a book by Samuel Richardson, "Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded," published in 1740 in England. The story is of a 15-year-old servant girl who is forced to resist the amorous advances of her nobleman master. He resorts even to locking her up to complete his seduction, which Pamela virtuously rejects. Over time the two fall in love and he rewards her virtue with a legitimate proposal of marriage. She accepts and is vaulted from the status of maid to noblewoman.
In 1750, Carlo Goldini, an Italian playwright, took Richardson's "Pamela" and scripted it as a stage play, called "La Pamela." Piccinni adapted Goldini's version of the story to compose "La Cecchina." By the time the opera was written, the alterations that had occurred between Richardson and Goldini, then from Goldini to Piccinni, made the story almost unrecognizable from its original plot line. Richardson had written a light-hearted moral plot line, whereupon Goldini gave the story a somewhat more serious air. Piccinni reversed course again and made the opera a rib-rocking comedy.
The story begins with Cecchina the maid, who has caught the eye of the Marquis of Conchiglia. The Marquis' sister is engaged to a man who refuses marriage because he is outraged at the impropriety of the Marquis' affections for a commoner. Additional comedic twists include the antics of a poor suitor who pines for Cecchina and the machinations of two trouble-making maids. In the end, it is discovered that Cecchina is actually the daughter of a German nobleman, and the plot resolves into happily ever after.
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