The online opera Guide and Synopsis to IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA
The Barber is rightly one of the most popular operas in the entire repertoire and is perhaps the opera comedy par excellence. An intoxicating music and the hilarious situation comedy unite to form a great masterpiece.
Overview and quick access
♪ Act I
♪ Act II
♪ Largo al factotum (Figaro’s aria)
Roles and Synopsis
Cesare Sterbini, based on the comedy Le barbier de Séville by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais.
The main roles
Almaviva, Count Almaviva, wealthy nobleman (tenor) - Rosina, ward of Bartolo (mezzo-soprano) - Dr. Bartolo, Rosina's guardian (bass) - Don Basilio, Bartolo's confidant and Rosina's music teacher (bass) - Figaro, barber and Almaviva's confidant (baritone).
DG with Teresa Berganza, Luigi Alva, Hermann Prey, Enzo Dara and Paolo Montarsolo conducted by Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony Orchestra.
The libretto is by Cesare Sterbini and is based on the comedy “Le barbier de Séville” by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. The original is witty and the librettist did not have to invent a new story, but Sterbini deserves much praise for his stunning lyrics, which fit so brilliantly with Rossini’s musical language. While Mozart used Beaumarchais’ opera as a vehicle for social criticism – which was the authors intention – this aspect is not present in Rossini’s work. This work should never be anything other than a great comedy.
Each of the pieces is a highlight and each role is a shining role – rarely has a comedy been so convincingly set to music. Although Rossini has repeated the themes in the individual pieces of music over and over again for time reasons, one never gets tired of listening in any number. On the contrary, one could listen to most of the numbers for hours, because they bubble over with wit and musicality. Already at the age of 24 Rossini has reached a level that leaves us speechless.
The premiere of the work was chaotic and failed. The fact that Paisiello’s previous work of “il barbiere dis siviglia” was very well known and respected and that the audience was overwhelmed by Rossini’s hurricane may have contributed to the failure. Possibly the performance was even sabotaged by Paisiello’s followers. In the Fun Facts you can see two anecdotes about the premiere. Soon the greatness of the work was recognized and it became a stage success. Even Beethoven expressed himself in highest tones about the Barbiere. With Wagner’s work and the rise of Verismo, Rossini’s works went out of fashion and disappeared from the repertoire, only the barber could hold his own. This led to a vicious circle due to the emerging shortage of trained coloratura singers. Only after the Second World War did Maria Callas trigger a Rossini renaissance with her interpretation of “il Turco in Italia”. Thanks to her subtle and nuanced virtuosity, she opened “the doors to the terra incognita of bel canto for the next generation”, according to Montserrat Caballé. Thus, with Caballé, Sutherland, Berganza and many others, a generation of outstanding singers emerged who sang Rossini again. Since then, the barber has become one of the top three opera in most countries.
IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA ACT I
Rossini had written his own overture for the premiere, but it was lost. Due to time constraints, he recycled another overture that he had originally composed for a serious opera (!), he wanted to reuse the popular piece and it became perhaps his most famous instrumental piece ever.
Ouverture – Abbado/LSO
Time travel to the bel canto with the aria “Ecco ridente in cielo”
Synopsis: Every day Almaviva serenades Rosina in front of her balcony. He pretends to be the student Lindoro and hopes to win the heart of the beautiful girl.
Rossini composed a serenade in classical style for this scene. Similar to Mozart’s serenade in Don Giovanni, it is composed with restraint. Plucked strings, imitating a guitar, accompany the singer to an aria in a noble singing style. In Rossini’s Serenade, however, the horses go through with the singer, and the serenade develops into a fast cabaletta in the second part.
This aria is a classic for coloratura singers from the heyday of bel canto. Listen to “Ecco ridente in cielo” sung by Juan Diego Florez, the best coloratura tenor of our time.
Ecco ridente in cielo (1) – Florez
If you really want to be amazed, you have to listen to the version by Hermann Jadlowker (1877-1958). Unfortunately, the recording quality is rather poor, but you can still enjoy his highly virtuoso coloratura to the fullest.
Ecco ridente in cielo (2) – Hermann Jadlowker
Fiiiiiiiiiiiiigaro’s great aria
Synopsis: Rosina is an orphan and lives with her aging guardian Dr. Bartolo, who hopes to marry her one day because she will inherit a lot of money. Then Almaviva sees the barber Figaro, who is on his way to visit Bartolo.
Everyone knows this self-confident appearance of Figaro, who pretends to be a cheerful and shrewd barber.
You will hear the famous “largo al factotum” of the Figaro in three variations. Each from a different era. We start again with a example from our days from the Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostoksy:
Largo al factotum (1) – Hvorostovski
Next with Pasquale Amato, one of the great singers of the golden era, who was a valued partner of Enrico Caruso at the Metropolitan Opera. His recording is not so much focused on the powerful tone, but rather captivates the listener with the Belcantist nuances of the tone and a pronounced rubato (which Toscanini later expeled of the singers). Listen to the Aria of Figaro by Pasquale Amato sung with a roaring swing.
Largo al factotum (2) – Amato
The third interpretation is a sound document from the fifties with Tito Gobbi. Tito Gobbi (1913-1984). There is an anecdote about him, how he found his way into the world of opera. “Gobbi came from a wealthy family. They sent him to study law at the nearby University of Padua. But the studiosus was more devoted to the athletic pleasures that were offered to him and excelled especially in tennis. The anecdote has it that after a match he serenaded an attractive spectator spontaneously and was heard by a Baron Zanchetta, who strongly advised him to have his voice trained. Gobbi did this in Rome.” (fishermen, big voices)
Largo al factotum (3) – Gobbi
Figaro’s is going to help Almaviva
Synopsis: Almaviva decides to win the support of the Figaro with some money. He shall help him to get access to the house.
A virtuoso duet about what this story is all about.
All idea – Alva/Prey
For the opera aficionado, an accomplished duet in a recording from 1915. In this recording you will hear Alessandro Bonci (1870-1940), the greatest tenor di grazia of his time. Kesting comments on this recording as follows: “Bonci’s coloraturas and ornaments in the duet “All’idea” with Corradetti as partner are incomparable – one of the greatest virtuoso recordings on record.
All idea – Bonci/Corradetti.
Synopsis: Rosina liked the serenades of the unknown Lindoro, she appears on the balcony and drops a note with a message.
As usual, this opening aria is divided into two parts: a slow cavatina and a fast cabaletta. The melody of the fast part has had an amazing career in Rossini’s oeuvre. First he used it in the warlike “Palmyra”, then in the love-drunken “Elisabetta” until it reached the throat of Rosina.
The role of Rosina was sung by coloratura sopranos (often one tone higher) for a long time in the 20th century. Teresa Berganza began singing this aria again at the end of the sixties as a coloratura alto in the Fach for which the piece was originally written by Rossini.
Una voce poco fa – Berganza
Cecilia Bartoli replaced Berganza as the leading Rossini voice, a consummate interpretation at the young age of 22.
Una voce poco fa – Bartoli
Shining roles for “Basso buffo”
Synopsis: The music teacher Don Basilio appears and tells Bartolo that Count Almaviva is in town and that he has it in for Rosina. He recommends Bartolo to launch a slander that will not miss its effect.
For the two roles of the type “Basso buffo” Rossini wrote many passages that are simply enchanting. One of these scenes is Basilio’s aria “La calumnia è un venticello”. The text of the aria sounds like the definition of a Rossini crescendo. It begins with a breeze and gradually increases into a musical hurricane until it ends with the shot of a cannon.
Listen in two interpretations. First with Montarsolo, a first-rate buffo singer.
La calumnia è un venticello (1) – Montarsolo
Next is Alexander Kipnis, one of the most beautiful bass voices ever. Kipnis sings the aria in German, a bit unusual, but wonderful.
La calumnia è un venticello (2) – Kipnis
Synopsis: Figaro speaks secretly with Rosina and tells her that Lindoro is immortally in love with her. Rosina hands him a little letter for him.
This duet of Figaro and Rosina is a feast of coloratura. The embellishments increase more and more and end in a decorative frenzy of Rosina, charmingly accompanied by the dotted melody of Figaro.
Dunque io son – Callas / Gobbi
Synopsis: When Bartolo returns, he notices that Rosina has ink on her finger and that a letterhead is missing. He decides from now on to lock Rosina up in the house.
This aria of Bartolo is a long piece and is written in a complicated way with many ornaments. In the second part, the singer has to sing long stretches with sixteenth notes in tempo vivace. The aria used to be replaced by another aria because of its difficulty.
Dara was the leading Rossini basso of the 70/80s and his sillabato (fast chanting) was legendary.
A un dottor della mia sorte – Dara
Almaviva’s first attempt to visit Rosina
Synopsis: On the advice of Figaro, Almaviva disguises himself as a drunken officer who tries to force accommodation in Bartolo’s house with a fake ticket.
This part is of great comedy. Rossini contrasts the military rhythms of the strings with the giggling sounds of the woodwinds. In addition, there are the passages composed in rapid sprechgesang.
Listen to this stunning passage in the exquisitely filmed recording by Abbado.
Ehi di casa – Alva / Dara / Berganza /Abbado
Rossini the Ensemble Composer
Synopsis: In the process, he produces so much noise that the police turn up. He is arrested and shows the police a paper. The officer gives Almaviva a military salute. Everyone is confused.
This ensemble is a musical chaos. In a fugato, everyone gives his version of the events. The excitement increases more and more, which leads to a captivating stretta.
You will hear an excerpt from a masterful overall recording (Marriner). Fireworks on stage.
Ma signor…zitto tu – Florez / di Donato / Mattei / del Carlo
IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA ACT II
Synopsis: Almaviva pretended to be a music teacher for Bartolo and claimed to be a substitute for Don Basilio, who had fallen ill. To gain his trust, he gives Basilio a letter and claims that he intercepted Rosina’s letter to Count Almaviva. Bartolo pockets the letter and lets the music teacher into the house.
Experience how Almaviva tries to soap up Bartolo with a repeated hypocritical “Pace e gioia”. Again and again Rossini interrupts this lament with interruptions sung in double tempo, expressing the thoughts of the two. Thus Rossini creates a hilarious second level of comedy. Grandiose is the part where Bartolo laments his grief in rapid sprechgesang (“ma che perfido destino”) and the wrong music teacher sings a cantilena in the old style.
Pace e gioia – Dara/Alva
Synopsis: The music teacher sits down at the piano and Rosina begins to sing. The suspicious Bartolo remains in the room, but soon nods off. The two briefly assure themselves of their love and Bartolo wakes up again.
This music lesson was often misused for arias that sopranos sang as “cabinet pieces”. For example, Adelina Patti often sang “Home sweet home” at this point and Nellie Melba even sang the mad scene from Lucia di Lammermoor.
Contro un cor – Callas
Synopsis: Now Figaro appears for Dr. Bartolo daily shave. Shortly afterwards Basilio appears. Astonished, Bartolo asks about his state of health. Almaviva secretly slips him a purse and explains to him that he, Basilio, is seriously ill and should go home to take care of the bed, which Basilio, encouraged by the purse, does. Rosina and Almaviva can talk briefly and agree that Almaviva is going to abduct her at midnight, Figaro has already taken the key to the balcony. Then Bartolo notices the swindle and chases Almaviva out of the house.
“Buona Sera” is another beautiful quartet.
Buona Sera Signore – Gobbi / Callas / Alva
Synopsis: Bartolo is nervous. When Basilio reappears, he claims not to know the music teacher and they suspect that it was Almaviva. They decide to get a notary to perform the marriage in the evening. Bartolo shows the letter to Rosina, who is surprised, and Bartolo claims that Almaviva has other lovers. Rosina suspects bitterly that Lindoro wants to drive her into the arms of Almaviva. Outside a thunderstorm is developing.
Temporale – Barbacini
Synopsis: When Figaro and Almaviva enter the house via the balcony at midnight, they are confronted with Rosina’s accusations. Overjoyed, Rosina realizes that Lindoro is none other than Count Almaviva. While the two are in seventh heaven, Figaro urges them to hurry.
The joy of the happy turn of events leads to an acrobatic and virtuoso coloratura duet of Rosina and Almaviva, repeatedly commented on by the impatient interjections of Figaro, who urges them to hurry. The piece ends with a real trio, the charming stretta “Zitti, zitti, piano, piano”.
Ah! Qual colpo inaspettato Trio – Berganza / Alva / Prey
Synopsis: When they want to escape again via the balcony, the ladder is gone. There Basilio arrives with the notary. Figaro quickly has the idea to carry out the marriage now. Almaviva gives Basilio a purse and this acts together with Figaro as a wedding witness.
The following aria is often left out. On the one hand because it is dramatically unnecessary, and on the other hand because it is very difficult.
The Peruvian is perhaps the best Rossini tenor of our time and perhaps even for many decades. He sings even the most demanding passages of this difficult aria with an ease that is astonishing.
Ah il più lieto il più felice – Florez
A spectacular singer was Rockwell Blake. He was a Rossini specialist and this aria was one of his highlights, which he mastered perfectly to sing at a tremendous tempo.
Ah il più lieto il più felice – Blake
Rossini’s sparkling finale
Synopsis: When Bartolo shows up with the police, he must realize that he has lost, Basilio and Figaro have betrayed him. Almaviva generously gives Don Bartolo the dowry and everyone is happy. The play ends with a hymn to courage, cunning and love.
Finale, di si felice innesto – Abbado & Ensemble
For aficionados a Callas anecdote to listen to
Read about an incident that occurred 1957 in la Scala in a live recording of the Barbiere with Maria Callas: «Immediately after this loud and yet strangely lukewarm applause came the aforementioned Éclat. As music master Almaviva praises the «Bella voce! bravissima!», but apparently not in harmony with a part of the audience. There were expressions of displeasure, which at first were suffocated by the Callasians. The singer of the Bartolo also took her side. Melchiore Luise directed his first line «Certo, bella voce» recognizably against the enemy front, emphatically emphasizing the word «certo»; and when then a verbal rioter yells «ah, no! no!», he vigorously repeated: «Certo, bella voce». What announced itself in this episode was a resistance against Maria Callas, who at that time built himself up like an incubating disease. That it was a controlled resistance is also shown by the fact that after the performance Maria Callas thought she was picking up a bouquet of flowers and holding a bunch of radishes in her hand. » (Jürgen Kesting, sbb Kulturradio). Listen to this passage in the YouTube video (the described scene starts at 5:45).
Callas Anecdote – Callas / Gobbi / Alva / Giulini
DG with Teresa Berganza, Luigi Alva, Enzo Dara, Hermann Prey and Paolo Montarsolo under the direction of Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony Orchestra.
Peter Lutz, opera-inside the online opera guide on il barbiere di Siviglia by Gioacchino Rossini.