Originally intended as a moment of light relief to be performed between the acts of an opera seria, Haydn’s intermezzo La Canterina tells the story of a mother and daughter who are rather down on their luck, and how they play with men’s affections to continue living the life of the wealthy.
The young and wealthy Don Ettore brings gifts for Gasparina that he has stolen from his mother, and invites the ladies out to lunch. Before he can take his leave, a knock at the door announces the arrival of Don Pelagio, Gasparina’s singing teacher. To prevent any scandal, the ladies immediately pretend that Don Ettore is a linen merchant and swiftly finish a deal with him.
Singing teacher Don Pelagio has brought Gasparina a new aria to learn. While the two of them are alone together, he uses the recitative to pass little love messages to Gasparina, before finally bursting out with a proposal of marriage for her. Gasparina leads him on, saying everything she knows will flatter his vanity, but refusing to agree to marry him.
When Don Pelagio finds out about Don Ettore, and realises what Gasparina has been doing, he takes back all of the gifts he has brought her, and demands payment for all of the singing lessons, instructing a bailiff to remove all of her furniture and seize her property. Gasparina uses every tactic she has left to save her precious belongings, singing an aria, offering him flattery, and eventually fainting. Don Ettore rushes in with the only remedy sure to work on a fainted woman; diamonds.
Gasparina revives, and Don Pelagio has returned all of her belongings, and given her many of his own as well. She and her mother rejoice that their scheme has succeeded, and they have duped the men to continue giving them gifts.