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Based on the play of the same name by Beaumarchais, The Barber of Seville is sometimes referred to as being the first modern Italian opera. Written in 1815 (Rossini was a mere 23 year-old composer), The Barber of Seville came at a time when Italian audiences were still amused by the farcical operatic conventions of the Intermezzo comico and the opera buffa, and while The Barber is often referred to as an Italian opera buffa, it is the true precursor to subsequent lyric comedies such as The Elixir of Love, Don Pasquale and even Verdi’s Falstaff.
In his own inimitable way, Rossini composed The Barber of Seville in three weeks, with the exception of the now famous overture, which he borrowed from his own opera Aureliano in Palmira. For more information about The Barber of Seville, download An Irreverent Guide for Enjoying: Rossini’s Barber.
Rosina reflects on the voice that has enchanted her heart and resolves to use her considerable wiles to meet Lindoro ("Una voce poco fa"). Dr. Bartolo appears with Rosina's music master, Don Basilio, who warns him that Count Almaviva, Rosina's admirer, has been seen in Seville. Dr. Bartolo decides to marry Rosina immediately. Basilio praises slander as the most effective means of getting rid of Almaviva ("La calunnia"). Figaro overhears the plot, warns Rosina, and promises to deliver a letter from her to Lindoro (Duet: "Dunque io son"). Suspicious of Rosina, Dr. Bartolo tries to prove that she has written a letter, but she outwits him at every turn. Dr. Bartolo is angry at her defiance and warns her not to trifle with him ("A un dottor della mia sorte").
Disguised as a drunken soldier, Almaviva arrives and passes Rosina a note, which she manages to hide from Dr. Bartolo. The old man argues that he has exemption from billeting soldiers. Figaro announces that a crowd has gathered in the street, curious about all the noise coming from inside the house. The civil guard burst in to arrest the drunken soldier. The Count reveals his true identity to the captain and is instantly released. Everyone except Figaro is amazed by this turn of events, and all comment on the crazy events of the morning.
ACT II. Dr. Bartolo suspects that the "drunken soldier" was a spy planted by Almaviva. The Count returns, this time disguised as Don Alonso, a music teacher and student of Don Basilio (Duet: "Pace e gioia sia con voi"). He has come to give Rosina her music lesson in place of Basilio, who, he says, is ill at home. "Don Alonso" also tells Dr. Bartolo that he is staying at the same inn as Almaviva and has found the letter from Rosina. He offers to tell Rosina that it was given to him by another woman, proving that Lindoro is toying with her on Almaviva's behalf. This convinces Dr. Bartolo that "Don Alonso" is a true student of Don Basilio, and he allows him to give Rosina her music lesson ("Contro un cor").
Figaro arrives to give Dr. Bartolo his shave and manages to snatch the key that opens the balcony shutters. The shaving is about to begin when Basilio shows up looking perfectly healthy. Everyone convinces Basilio, with repeated assurances and a quick bribe, that he is sick with scarlet fever (Quintet: "Buona sera, mio signore"). Basilio leaves for home, confused but richer. The shaving begins, sufficiently distracting Dr. Bartolo from hearing Almaviva plotting with Rosina to elope that night. But Dr. Bartolo hears the phrase "my disguise" and furiously realizes he has been tricked again. Everyone leaves.
The maid Berta comments on the crazy household ("Il vecchiotto cerca moglie"). Basilio is summoned and told to bring a notary so Dr. Bartolo can marry Rosina that very evening. Dr. Bartolo then shows Rosina her letter to Lindoro. Heartbroken and convinced that she has been deceived, she agrees to marry Dr. Bartolo and tells him of the plan to elope with Lindoro. A storm passes. Figaro and the Count climb over the wall. Rosina is furious until Almaviva reveals his true identity. Basilio arrives with the notary. Bribed with a valuable ring and threatened with a couple of bullets in the head, Basilio agrees to be a witness to the marriage of Rosina and Almaviva. Dr. Bartolo arrives with soldiers, but it is too late. Count Almaviva explains to Dr. Bartolo that it is useless to protest ("Cessa di più resistere"), and Dr. Bartolo accepts that he has been beaten. Figaro, Rosina, and the Count celebrate their good fortune.
Beverly Sills, Nicolai Gedda, James Levine; London Symphony – EMI
Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi, Alcero Galliera; Philharmonia Orchetra – EMI
Both recordings have been remastered, so fidelity is an issue. Plus both Callas and Sills perform the role of Rosina interpolated as a soprano; which is not what Rossini wrote. Both are exquisite singers, but even if you’re devotees of these fine divas, you’d be better served by buying Sills’ Manon recording, or Callas’ Tosca.
For a fine performance by a great artist:
Marilyn Horne, Leo Nucci, Samuel Ramey, Ricardo Chailly; Orchestra Teatro alla Scala.
Now, you’re not going to get modern sensitivities to ‘performance practice’ – but what you get is Marilyn Horne’s sumptuous, rich voice performing Rossini’s taxing coloratura with ease and delight.
Cecilia Bartoli, Leo Nucci, Giuseppe Patane (cond); Orchestra del teatro communale di Bologna. Bartoli at her best.
Opera is like an exquisite meal – to be anticipated and savored.
Two music excerpts everyone should learn before coming to hear The Barber (yes, my friends, one goes to the cinema to ‘see’ a movie, but one comes to the theater to ‘hear’ a play or an opera):
Largo al factotum – THE famous aria – ‘Figaro, Figaro, Figaro’ in which the Barber sings of his great life, but the hassle he has with his customers wanting his attention all at once.
Buona sera mio signore – The great ensemble from Act II during which the Count, Figaro, Rosina and Bartolo try to get Don Basilio out of the house, wishing him ‘good evening’; i.e., ‘buona sera.’
For the full list of recommended recordings visit Maestro's Selection.
Known as Italian Opera's Comic Genius and the leading opera composer of the first half of the 19th century, Gioachino Rossini was the master of simple melody and clear rhythm. Born in 1792 to a musical family - his father a trumpet player, his mother an opera singer - Rossini mastered the trade at an early age, writing his first opera at age 8 and becoming a national celebrity by the time he was 21-years-old. From Venice to Milan, from Rome to Naples, Rossini gained a reputation for his notable style and his uncanny speed at producing operas.
Between 1808 and 1829, Rossini composed no fewer than 40 operas. Among his operatic successes are The Barber of Seville (1816), La Cenerentola (1817), La Gazza Ladra (1817), Semiramide (1823), and William Tell (1829). In 1822, Rossini settled in Paris and became the Royal Composer and Inspector General of Singing in France. Despite his enormous success - even the great Beethoven congratulated him on The Barber of Seville - Rossini stopped composing at the age of 37. Living off the wealth of his achievements, Rossini lived lavishly until his death on November 13, 1868. He was buried in Paris but 19 years later his remains were taken to be re-interred in the church of Santa Croce in Florence.
No Language Barrier!
Enjoy the beauty of the original language and understand it all with English translations. The English text is projected on a screen above the stage for each opera. Easy to follow, and easy to understand every twist and turn of the plot!