Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville, or  The Useless Precaution) 1816

Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!

Paisiello had already written a very popular Il barbiere di Siviglia (1782).  This was one of several adaptions of Beaumarchais’s French comedy Le Barbier de Séville (1775) – including three other operas.  The familiar Figaro again!  Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro appeared in 1786.  So Rossini called his opera, premiered 1816 in Rome,  Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione (Almaviva, or the Useless Precaution). It was renamed for the performance in Bologna the same year – after Paisiello died.  Rossini later “maintained that he had written to beg forgiveness of Paisiello for using the subject of the older composer’s most renowned work.” (Biography)

Those famous roles

These are strongly delineated characters. The role of Rosina was originally written for a contralto. According to music critic Richard Osborne, "it is important to record the degree to which singers have sometimes distorted Rossini’s intentions. The most serious distortion has been the upward transposition of the role of Rosina, turning her from a lustrous alto into a pert soprano."    (quoted in Wikipedia) Rosina develops wonderfully in the famous aria “Una voce poco fa / qui nel cor mi risuono”, “A little voice just echoed in my heart.” Watch Joyce DiDonato singing it from a wheelchair! Listen to her talking about the change in Rosina when she broke her leg! And here’s  Isabel Leonard. Yes, it was one of Joan Sutherland’s roles. ‘Stendhal did not approve of the aria: “There is a good deal of
unnecessary self-assertiveness in this song of this innocent young ward, and a good too little love.”’ (Telegraph) Figaro is a plum role for a baritone who can act!  His entrance aria (“Largo al factotum”) “with its repeated proclamations of his own name—is one of the best-known of all opera arias.” (BritannicaHere’s Dmitri Hvorostovsky acting it in concert! Its lyrics are here.

The Music

Oh and that most famous overture; notice it has no themes from the opera – unusual! That’s because, writing a hurry as always, Rossini reused an overture composed for Aureliano in 1813, and subsequently employed for Elisabetta. And of course the opera is full of superb complex group singing.    Watch the famous Act 1 finale where everyone is confused, with our stars from last week - Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez, at the Royal Opera.

Friday June 9th