The Barber of Seville
The Barber of Seville, or The Futile Precaution (Il barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L'inutile precauzione) is an opera buffa in two acts by Gioachino Rossini with a libretto by Cesare Sterbini. The libretto was based on Pierre Beaumarchais's comedy Le Barbier de Séville (1775), which was originally an opéra comique, or a mixture of spoken play with music. The première (under the title Almaviva, or the Futile Precaution) took place on 20 February 1816, at the Teatro Argentina, Rome.
Rossini's Barber has proven to be one of the greatest masterpieces of comedy within music, and has been described as the opera buffa of all "opere buffe". Even after two hundred years, its popularity on the modern opera stage attests to that greatness.
Composition history 
An opera based on the play had previously been composed by Giovanni Paisiello, another was composed in 1796 by Nicolas Isouard and by Francesco Morlacchi in 1816. 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. In 1868, shortly after Rossini's death, the composer Costantino Dall'Argine (1842–1877), premiered an opera based on the same libretto as Rossini's work, bearing a dedication to Rossini. The premiere was not a failure, but critics condemned the "audacity" of the young composer, and the work is now forgotten.
Rossini's opera recounts 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-Française at the Tuileries Palace.
Rossini was well known for being remarkably productive, completing an average of two operas per year for 19 years, and in some years writing as many as four. Musicologists believe that, true to form, the music for Il Barbiere di Siviglia was composed in just under three weeks, although some of the themes in the famous overture were actually borrowed from two earlier Rossini operas, Aureliano in Palmira and Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra.
Performance history 
Barbiere's first performance on 20 February 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, Giovanni Paisiello, who played on "mob mentality" to provoke the rest of the audience to dislike the opera. Paisiello had already composed The Barber of Seville and took Rossini's new version to be an affront to his version. In particular, Paisiello and his followers were opposed to the use of basso buffo, which is common in comic opera. The second performance met with quite a different fate, becoming a roaring success. The original French play, Le Barbier de Séville endured a similar story, poorly received at first only to become a favorite within a week.
It was one of the earliest Italian operas to be performed in America, premiering in New Orleans on 4 March 1823 at the Orleans Theatre, and subsequently at the Park Theatre in New York City on 29 November 1825.
As a staple of the operatic repertoire, Barber appears as number nine on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide. 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, Susanne Marsee, Cecilia Bartoli, Joyce DiDonato, Jennifer Larmore, Elīna Garanča, and Vesselina Kasarova. Famous contralto Rosinas include Ewa Podleś.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast, 20 February 1816
(Conductor: Gioachino Rossini)
|Rosina, Dr. Bartolo's ward||contralto / mezzo-soprano||Geltrude Righetti|
|Doctor Bartolo, Rosina's guardian||bass||Bartolomeo Botticelli|
|Count Almaviva, a local nobleman||tenor||Manuel Garcia|
|Figaro, a factotum, the Barber of Seville||baritone||Luigi Zamboni|
|Fiorello, a servant to the Count||bass||Paolo Biagelli|
|Don Basilio, a music teacher||bass||Zenobio Vitarelli|
|Berta, a servant to Dr. Bartolo||soprano||Elisabetta Loyselet|
|Ambrogio, a servant to Dr. Bartolo||bass|
|Officers, soldiers, policeman, a notary|
- Place: Seville, Spain.
- Time: 17th 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 the young 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. Rosina is the young ward of the grumpy, elderly Dr. Bartolo and she is allowed very little freedom because Bartolo plans to marry her, and her not inconsiderable dowry, himself – once she is of age.
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 a little while ago"). (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, almost traditional, cadenzas sometimes reaching high Ds or even Fs, as is the case of Diana Damrau's performances.)
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Knowing the Count only as 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, the Bartolo housekeeper, 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 whisper his name to the officer and is released right away. Bartolo and Basilio are astounded, and Rosina makes sport of them. (Finale: "Fredda ed immobile, comme una statua"; "Cold and still, just like a statue").
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.
For the singing lesson in act 2, sopranos have often inserted a song of their own choice. Pauline Viardot began the practice of inserting Alabiev's "Nightingale". Maria Callas sang a cut-down version of Rossini's own "Contro un cor."
- Casaglia, Gherardo, "20 Febbraio 1816", Almanacco Amadeus, 2005
- Fisher, Burton D., The Barber of Seville (Opera Classics Library Series). Grand Rapids: Opera Journeys, 2005.
- D'Arcais, F. (1869). "Rassegna Musicale". Direzione della nuova antologia (in Italian) (Firenze: Direzione della nuova antologia) 10: 404.
- Gazzetta Piemontese (in Italian). 17 November 1868. p. 2.
- Cordier, Henri (1967). Bibliographie Des Oeuvres de Beaumarchais. p. 13.
- Osborne, Richard (2007-08-29). Rossini. pp. 38–41. ISBN 9780199884575.
- The Barber of Seville at musicwithease.com
- Henry A Kmen, Music in New Orleans – The Formative Years – 1791–1841', Louisiana State University Press, 1966, p. 97
- Henry Edward Krehbiel, A Book of Operas: Their Histories, Their Plots and Their Music, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1909, from googlebooks
- "Opera Statistics". Operabase. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
- Myers, Eric, "Sweet and Low: The case of the vanishing contralto, Opera News, December 1996.
- The voice types given here refer to original voice types specified in the libretto printed for the premiere performance (Rome:Crispino Puccinelli) and the original cast see Fondazione Teatro La Fenice di Venezia.Il barbiere di Siviglia. 2010
- 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. Rossini, Gioacchino (2006). The Barber of Seville. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. ISBN 978-1-57912-618-6.
- In modern performance the role of Berta is also sung by mezzo-sopranos. See for example, Il barbiere di Siviglia on the MetOpera Database (performance archives of the Metropolitan Opera)
- The hard of hearing Ambrogio is limited to asking "Eh?", notated on middle C.
- Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
- Melitz, Leo, The Opera Goer's Complete Guide, 1921: source of synopsis with updates, clarifications, and modifications to its often out-of-date language.
- Osborne, Charles, The Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press, 1994 ISBN 0-931340-71-3
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: The Barber of Seville|
- The Barber of Seville: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Bilingual Libretto (English and Italian)
- (German) The Barber of Seville