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The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution (Il barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L'inutile precauzione) is an opera buffa in two acts by Gioachino Rossini with a libretto (based on Pierre Beaumarchais's comedy Le Barbier de Séville) by Cesare Sterbini. The overture, first written for Aureliano in Palmira, is a famous example of Rossini's characteristic Italian style.

The première (under the title Almaviva, or the Useless Precaution) took place on February 20, 1816, at the Teatro Argentinamarker, Rome. It would become the first Italian opera ever performed in America, premiering at the Park Theater in New York on Nov. 29, 1825.

History

An opera based on the play had previously been composed by Giovanni Paisiello, and another was composed in 1796 by Nicolas Isouard. Though the work of Paisiello triumphed for a time, Rossini's later version alone has stood the test of time and continues to be a main­stay of operatic repertoire.

Rossini's opera follows the first of the plays from the Figaro trilogy, by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, while Mozart's opera Le nozze di Figaro, composed 30 years earlier in 1786, is based on the second part of the Beaumarchais trilogy. The original Beaumarchais version was first performed in 1775, in Paris at the Comédie-Françaisemarker at the Tuileries Palacemarker.

Rossini is well known for his fast work at composition, and true to his style, all the music for Il Barbiere di Siviglia was completed in under three weeks; though the famous overture was actually borrowed from two prior Rossini operas, Aureliano in Palmira and Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra. Barbiere's first performance on February 20, 1816 was a disastrous failure: the audience hissed and jeered throughout, and several on-stage accidents occurred. However, many of the audience were supporters of one of Rossini's rivals who played on "mob mentality" to provoke the rest of the audience to dislike the opera. The second performance met with quite a different fate, becoming a roaring success. It is curious to note that the original French play of Le Barbier de Séville endured a similar story, hated at first only to become a hit within a week.

As a staple of the operatic repertoire, Barber appears as number five on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America. The role of Rosina, although written for a coloratura contralto and most frequently sung by a coloratura mezzo-soprano, has, in the past and occasionally in more recent times, been sung in transposition by coloratura sopranos such as Marcella Sembrich, {Maria Callas, Roberta Peters, Gianna D'Angelo, Victoria de los Ángeles, Beverly Sills, Lily Pons, Diana Damrau, Kathleen Battle and Luciana Serra. Famous recent mezzo-soprano Rosinas include Marilyn Horne, Teresa Berganza, Lucia Valentini Terrani, Cecilia Bartoli, Joyce DiDonato, Jennifer Larmore, Elīna Garanča, and Vesselina Kasarova. Famous contralto Rosinas include Ewa Podleś.

Roles

Role Voice type Premiere cast, 20 February 1816

(Conductor: Gioachino Rossini)
Rosina, Bartolo's ward mezzo-soprano*See note Geltrude Righetti
Doctor Bartolo, Rosina's guardian bass Bartolomeo Botticelli
Count Almaviva, a local nobleman tenor Manuel Garcia
Figaro, the Barber of Seville baritone Luigi Zamboni
Fiorello, the Count's servant bass Paolo Biagelli
Basilio, Bartolo's accomplice bass Zenobio Vitarelli
Berta (Marcellina), servant to Doctor Bartolo soprano Elisabetta Loiselet
Ambrogio, servant to Doctor Bartolo silent
A notary silent


  • Note — While contemporary printed scores tend to list Rosina as a mezzo-soprano role, the actual casting practice of opera houses varies widely. The role in its original key can be portrayed by both contraltos and mezzo-sopranos, and a popular transposed version is often used when a soprano is cast in the role. Singers of all three voice types have found considerable success with the role.


Synopsis

Place, Sevillemarker, Spain.
Time, the seventeenth century.


Act 1

The square in front of Dr. Bartolo's house

In a public square outside Dr. Bartolo's house a band of musicians and a poor student named Lindoro are serenading, to no avail, the window of Rosina (Ecco ridente in cielo/There, laughing in the sky). Lindoro, who is really Count Almaviva in disguise, hopes to make the beautiful Rosina love him for himself—not his money. Almaviva pays off the musicians who then depart, leaving him to brood alone.

Figaro approaches singing (Aria: Largo al factotum della città/Make way for the factotum of the city). Since Figaro used to be a servant of the Count, the Count asks him for assistance in helping him meet Rosina, offering him money should he be successful in arranging this. (Duet: All'idea di quel metallo/At the idea of that metal). Figaro advises the Count to disguise himself as a drunken soldier, ordered to be billeted with Dr. Bartolo, so as to gain entrance to the house. For this suggestion, Figaro is richly rewarded.

Dr. Bartolo's house

The scene begins with Rosina's cavatina: Una voce poco fa/A voice just now. (This aria was originally written in the key of E major for a mezzo-soprano voice, but it is sometimes transposed a semitone up into F major for coloratura sopranos to perform, giving them the chance to sing extra slightly-traditional cadenzas sometimes reaching high D's or even F's, as is the case of Diana Damrau's performances.)

Knowing the Count only by the name of Lindoro, Rosina writes to him. As she is leaving the room, Bartolo and Basilio enter. Bartolo is suspicious of the Count, and Basilio advises that he be put out of the way by creating false rumours about him (this aria, La calunnia è un venticello/Calumny is a little breeze is almost always sung a tone lower than the original D major).

When the two have gone, Rosina and Figaro enter. The latter asks Rosina to write a few encouraging words to Lindoro, which she has actually already written. (Duet: Dunque io son…tu non m'inganni?/Then I'm the one…you're not fooling me?). Although surprised by Bartolo, Rosina manages to fool him, but he remains suspicious. (Aria: A un dottor della mia sorte/To a doctor of my class).

As Berta attempts to leave the house, she is met by the Count disguised as an intoxicated soldier. In fear of the drunken man, she rushes to Bartolo for protection and he tries to remove the supposed soldier, but does not succeed. The Count manages to have a quick word with Rosina, whispering that he is Lindoro and passing her a letter. The watching Bartolo is suspicious and demands to know what is in the piece of paper in Rosina's hands, but she fools him by handing over her laundry list. Bartolo and the Count start arguing and, when Basilio, Figaro and Berta appear, the noise attracts the attention of the Officer of the Watch and his men. Bartolo believes that the Count has been arrested, but Almaviva only has to mention his name to the officer to be released. Bartolo and Basilio are astounded, and Rosina makes sport of them. (Finale: Fredda ed immobile/Cold and unmoving).

Act 2

Dr. Bartolo's house

Almaviva again appears at the doctor's house, this time disguised as a singing tutor and pretending to act as substitute for the supposedly ailing Basilio, Rosina's regular singing teacher. Initially, Bartolo is suspicious, but does allow Almaviva to enter when the Count gives him Rosina's letter. He describes his plan to discredit Lindoro whom he believes to be one of the Count's servants, intent on pursuing women for his master. In order not to leave Lindoro alone with Rosina, the doctor has Figaro shave him. (Quintet: Don Basilio! — Cosa veggo!/Don Basilio! — What do I see?).

When Basilio suddenly appears, he is bribed to feign sickness by a full purse from Almaviva. Finally Bartolo detects the trick, drives everybody out of the room, and rushes to a notary to draw up the marriage contract between himself and Rosina. He also shows Rosina the letter she wrote to "Lindoro", and convinces her that Lindoro is merely a flunky of Almaviva.

The stage remains empty while the music creates a thunder storm. The Count and Figaro climb up a ladder to the balcony and enter the room through a window. Rosina shows Almaviva the letter and expresses her feelings of betrayal and heartbreak. Almaviva reveals his identity and the two reconcile. While Almaviva and Rosina are enraptured by one another, Figaro keeps urging them to leave. Two people are heard approaching the front door, and attempting to leave by way of the ladder, they realize it has been removed. The two are Basilio and the notary and Basilio is given the choice of accepting a bribe and being a witness or receiving two bullets in the head (an easy choice, he says). He and Figaro witness the signatures to a marriage contract between the Count and Rosina. Bartolo barges in, but is too late. The befuddled Bartolo (who was the one who had removed the ladder) is pacified by being allowed to retain Rosina's dowry.

Selected recordings

Year Cast

(Rosina, Almaviva, Figaro)
Conductor

Opera House and Orchestra
Label
1958 Maria Callas,

Luigi Alva,

Tito Gobbi
Alceo Galliera,

Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: EMI Classics
1958 Roberta Peters,

Cesare Valletti,

Robert Merrill
Erich Leinsdorf,

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: RCA

1972 Teresa Berganza,

Luigi Alva,

Hermann Prey
Claudio Abbado,

London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon

Cat: 457 7332
1975 Beverly Sills,

Nicolai Gedda,

Sherrill Milnes
James Levine,

London Symphony Orchestra,

John Alldis Choir
Audio CD: EMI Classics

1987 Luciana Serra,

Rockwell Blake,

Bruno Pola
Bruno Campanella,

Teatro Regio di Torinomarker Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: Nuova Era
1993 Kathleen Battle,

Frank Lopardo,

Plácido Domingo
Claudio Abbado,

Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Chorus
Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon

1997 Edita Gruberová,

Juan Diego Flórez,

Vladimir Chernov
Ralf Weikert,

Münchner Rundfunkorchester and Chorus
Audio CD(live): Nightingale Classics
Note: "Cat:" is short for catalogue number by the label company; "ASIN" is amazon.com product reference number.

In popular culture

The overture and the aria "Largo al factotum" have been famously parodied in animated cartoons starring Woody Woodpecker (The Barber of Seville), Bugs Bunny (Rabbit of Seville and Long-Haired Hare), Porky Pig and Daffy Duck (You Ought to Be in Pictures), Tom and Jerry (The Cat Above and the Mouse Below and Kitty Foiled), and The Simpsons ("Homer of Seville"), as well as in Tex Avery's Magical Maestro, Warner Bros.' One Froggy Evening.

"Largo al factotum" is sung by a moustached baritone, a stop-motion animated clay figure, in the opening credits of the 1991 film Oscar, and by an animated bird in the opening credits of the 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire.

In the 1980 movie Hopscotch, Kendig crosses the border from Austria into Switzerland singing "Largo al factotum" at the top of his lungs with the car stereo. This fits the story line since he is now doing something useful and feels wonderful; also, like Figaro, everyone (CIA, KGB, Interpol, etc.) is looking for him.

The overture is played during the end credits of the Beatles film Help!, and is also used in the Garfield and Friends episode, "Nighty Nightmare", and the trailer of the film Brüno.

It is referenced by Lupe Fiasco in the song "Game Time" ("I do my part, I chill like the Barber of Seville, homie, it's like I'm paid to fade").

The Seinfeld episode "The Barber" uses music from The Barber of Seville instead of the familiar Seinfeld slap-bass incidental music.

The opera is featured in the Our Gang comedy, "Our Gang Follies of 1938", in that Alfalfa is tired of just being a crooner and decides instead to actually sing opera, auditioning for "The Barber of Seville". In fact, after his intro in the follies, he comes out on stage with an accordion shout-singing "I'm the Barber of Se-VILLE!!"

At the beginning of the M*A*S*H episode "Dear Comrade," Maj. Winchester is listening to "Una voce poco fa."

The manga Emma features a condensed version of this opera, as it is being watched by two of the characters. One of them remarks that no one dies in this opera, which is her reason for watching it.

Notes

References

The plot is taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version, with updates, clarifications, and modifications to its often out-of-date language.

External links




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