Joseph Haydn’s La Canterina (‘The Singing Girl’) was one of the composer’s earliest stage works, written in 1766 soon after Prince Nikolaus Esterházy had promoted him to first Kapellmeister.
The libretto, based on the third act of Piccinni’s opera L’Origille (1760), was most likely adapted by Karl Friberth, a singer at the Esterházy Court. The first documented performance was in Pressburg (Bratislava) on 16 February 1767, but the piece may have been performed a year earlier at Eisenstadt. Lasting under an hour, this buffa-style work has no overture and was originally designed as two intermezzi, each with a final quartet, to be performed between the acts of an opera seria.
The persona of each of the four characters is derived from the commedia dell’arte tradition, their individual arias parodying the contemporary world of opera and theatre. Haydn’s music skilfully enhances this comic critical vein, and he reserves his particular scorn for the singers.