The Barber of Seville

Il Barbiere Di Sivigliaor The Barber of Seville by Rossini and Sterbini.

The Barber of Seville is an opera buffa in two acts. The text is from Sterbini, a Roman poet. It was founded on the celebrated trilogy of Beaumarchais, with music by Geoachina Antonio Rossini.

It was first presented in the Argentina Theater in Rome, February 5, 1816.

It was first named “Almaviva, or the Useless Precaution” to distinguish it from Paisiello’s “Barber of Seville.”

Characters

  • Rosina
  • Doctor Bartolo, Rosina’s guardian
  • Basilio, a music master
  • Bertha, Rosina’s governess
  • Count Almaviva
  • Figaro, the barber
  • Fiorello, a servant
  • A notary, chorus of musicians, chorus of soldiers

The scene is laid in Seville. Count Almaviva, posing as one Lindoro, is seriously in love with Rosina.

As frequently occurs in operas, however, her guardian wishes to marry her himself. She is watched so jealously by Bartolo and his friend, Don Basilio, her music master, that for some time she cannot find opportunity to bestow as much as a smile upon the count in reward for his persistent serenading.

Finally, she manages to send him a letter confessing that she returns his love and, tired of being watched and scolded, she is entirely disposed to break her chains. Through the good offices of the gay and clever barber, Figaro, the lover finally secures entrance to the house of the adored one in the disguise of a drunken soldier with a billet of quartering.

His elaborate scheme comes to naught, however, for he is arrested by the guard. A second time he gains admittance as a music teacher who has come to take place of the fever stricken Don Basilio. He lights upon a plan whereby he fancies he may gain Bartolo’s confidence. He shows him Rosina’s letter with the suggestion that she be told that is was secured from a mistress of the Count and that her cavalier must be making light of her, if he is passing her letters about in such fashion.

He himself offers to carry out this suggestion but Don Basilio suddenly appears upon the scene, to the tremendous confusion of the plotting lover. A purse of gold persuades him that he is really ill and he goes home. The Count follows his example as soon as he has managed to plan an elopement with Rosina.

The letter the Count was to have shown Rosina has remained in Bartolo’s possession and he seizes the first opportunity to show it to her and, as he hoped, it rouses her jealousy. In her anger and disappointment, she discloses everything and promises to marry Bartolo instead of Lindoro.

When the time set for the elopement arrives, the bridegroom and Figaro appear and their explanations, chief among which is the fact that Count Almaviva and Lindoro are one and the same, are so satisfactory that a reconciliation is easily effected and the happy lovers are united by a notary, just as Bartolo and his officers come to arrest the Count. Even the fussy old doctor concludes to make the best of things and gives them his blessing, which makes it possible for the curtain to descend joyously.

More about The Barber of Seville

This is the best of Rossini’s operas in lighter vein and it has become an established favorite with all nations. In it is displayed the composer’s wonderful melodic genius. Both words and music are so admirably paired that the description of “operatic champagne” which has been applied to “The Barber” is undeniably apt.

The great work was written in a fortnight. Sterbini lived for the time in the same house, and literally fitted words to the music. In less than thirty days it was staged, but its first performance was a doleful one for so sprightly and entertaining an opera.

A number of mishaps occurred. Garcia, the tenor, who played the role of Count Almaviva, used on the opening night a Spanish air of his own for the serenade sung under Rosina’s window, and insisted upon accompanying himself on the guitar. A string broke, and until it could be replaced Rosina must needs wait in her casement, and the audience, even more impatient in their seats, until the lover could resume his plaint to the guitar accompaniment. That was the last time Garcia’s song was used, for between the first and the second performances Rossini composed the serenade we now hear.

Don Basilio was not entirely acquainted with the stage settings, and as he was entering for his great bass solo “Calumnia,” fell over a trap door and had to go through his part with a handkerchief held to his nose.

Just as the climax was reached, and the audience during the grand finale was perhaps forgetting for the moment the earlier disturbances, an innocent pussy cat cautiously found her way onto the stage, and bewildered by the lights and the actors, chased here and there, much to the discomfiture of the stage folk and to the amusement of the audience.

Added to these misfortunes, the house was well filled with Paisiello’s suppporters, many of whom were not aware of the fact that Rossini had begged and obtained permission of Paisiello to make of Beaumarchais’ “Barber of Seville,” and so considered it a stolen opera.

At the close of the performance the only hearty applause came from Rossini himself, which roused the ire of the public, and amid hisses and jeers he left the theater.

Rossini evidently cared little for public opinion, feeling certain that when his work was really known to be his own and Sterbini’s, and was staged without accident, that it would be accepted and accorded the praise it merited. At any rate, when his admirers and friends went to his home to console him they found Rossini sound asleep.

A very different reception was forthcoming the following night, though Rossini refused to appear at the theater; this time the intrigues of Paisello’s partisans could not blink the public to the worth of the work. Better judgment and finer taste prevailed, and from that day to this the world has done homage to this masterpiece of Rossini’s. Schumann said “Always gay and ingenious music; the best Rossini ever composed.”

If one would thoroughly enjoy this opera, he must listen carefully to the orchestra; it “not only enhances the themes, but it chatters and prattles with audacity, caprice, raillery, wit and charm, sometimes with and sometimes about the characters.”

One of the most beautiful and by some considered the most charming solo, is the one written after the first performance, the serenade “Ecco ridente ill cielo” (“Smiling, the Heavens”).

Another notable number is Figaro’s celebrated description of his duties, the cavatina, “Largo al factotum della cetta.”

Rosina’s song “Una voce poco fa” (“Twas a voice that called to me”) is sung during the first act. As an accompaniment the orchestra plays a merry, cunning, teasing part, which is again heard in the second act when she meets the Count.

In the merry music lesson scene the song practiced by Rosina has been lost, and it is the custom of every prima donna to interpolate her own particular show piece. The aria “Sempre gridi” (“Ever smiling”) sung by the duenna Bertha, is termed the “aria de Sorbetto” because of the Italian custom of eating ices during its singing.

The famous trio “Zitti, zitti,” is one fo the elegant ensembles of the master work and is followed by the bright finale with which the sparkling opera is brought to a close.