In Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s 1733 comic opera La Serva Padrona (“The Maid Made Mistress”), a maid sets her sights on her boss, and through a combination of flirtatious behavior and well-meant duplicity, convinces him that he has really loved her all along. The work is small and intimate with a deceptive simplicity that belies the sophistication of the music, allowing a fusion between comic theatre and comic opera.

Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto was plagued by politics at its inception. Based on Victor Hugo’s (banned) play Le roi s’amuse, about a licentious king, the opera required considerable negotiation with the imperial Austrian censors before it could be performed in Austrian-controlled Venice. The King was demoted to a Duke, and the action moved to medieval Mantua (whose ducal family, the Gonzagas, had conveniently died out by the 19th century).