Opera Scotland

Barber of Seville Il barbiere di Siviglia

Gioachino Rossini (born Pesaro, 29 February 1792; died Paris, 13 November 1868)

Cesare Sterbini

Play Le barbier de Séville 1775) by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-99)

First performance: Rome (Teatro Argentina), 20 February 1816.
First UK performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 10 March 1818.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 10 March 1820
Scottish Opera première: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 26 July 1971.

The Barber was initially launched under a different title (Almaviva, o sia l'inutile precauzione), because there was already a successful opera based on the same play. However Rossini’s version soon gained a level of success that relegated Paisiello’s to the near oblivion from which it only occasionally emerges. While the opera did remain continuously popular for a period now approaching two hundred years, it was nevertheless the victim of alterations in taste that resulted in the musical text being subjected to a range of changes, cuts and transpositions. The role of Rosina, created for a coloratura contralto, soon became a role popular with light, high sopranos. The music lesson in the second act, for which Rossini composed perfectly acceptable music, was usurped by sopranos desirous of displaying their talents in pieces by other composers. The orchestration was often changed with the addition of brass and percussion giving the whole sound extra weight which unbalanced the entire composition. The acting style was generally reduced from elegant, stylish comedy to crude slapstick. Gradually any coherent sense of Rossinian style was lost. One of the great pleasures of opera-going in recent years has been the discovery of the full range of Rossini’s output and the reassurance that The Barber, when played and sung in a suitably stylish fashion, is an even better comic opera than it was always thought to be.

Count Almaviva (tenor)
Figaro, a barber (baritone)
Bartolo, Rosina’s guardian (bass-baritone)
Rosina, Bartolo’s ward (mezzo-soprano)
Don Basilio, a music teacher (bass)
Berta, Bartolo’s servant (soprano)
Fiorello, the Count’s servant (baritone)

Plot Summary
Young, wealthy Count Almaviva is visiting Seville and has fallen for Rosina, a wealthy young woman kept in confinement by her guardian, Bartolo, who wants to marry her himself. Rosina is aware of Almaviva and is attracted to him, but believes him to be a student named Lindoro. The plot concerns the efforts of these two, assisted by Figaro, whose trusted position as barber gives him entry to most of the houses in the town, to outwit Bartolo and persuade him to accept the marriage of Rosina to Almaviva. This involves the count in two disguises, first as drunken soldier, then as music teacher (a cover for the “indisposed” Basilio). The comedy devices continue: a shaving scene to distract Bartolo; a mistimed arrival by the completely hale and hearty Basilio, who needs to be persuaded to leave again; a chronically delayed departure for the lovers; a well-timed rainstorm. Naturally all works out at last, and there is no hint of the difficulties the characters are to endure in the next instalment, so wonderfully handled by Mozart.


DECCA (3 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1988

Conductor: Giuseppe Patanè
Bologna Teatro Comunale Orchestra
Cecilia Bartoli (Rosina), William Matteuzzi (Almaviva), Leo Nucci (Figaro).

It is difficult to believe that it is more than twenty years since an extremely young Cecilia Bartoli was launched on to the operatic world. This was her first complete opera recording, and it is good to know that it has worn well and still sounds like one of the leaders in the field. Bartoli herself sings with great character and plenty of attention to detail. William Matteuzzi is perhaps the sweetest voiced Rossini tenor of recent years. Leo Nucci’s Figaro and Paata Burchuladze’s Basilio are perhaps less subtle than the ideal performers, but Enrico Fissore is excellent as Bartolo. The small role of Fiorello is well taken by Michele Pertusi, who has since then recorded several of the leading buffo roles.


EMI (3 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1962

Conductor: Vittorio Gui
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Victoria de los Angeles (Rosina), Luigi Alva (Almaviva), Sesto Bruscantini (Figaro).

This classic set, originating from performances at Glyndebourne, can comfortably stand as the best representative from the period before Rossini became the subject of extensive research into original performance practice. Good as the singers are, it would not sustain its continued supremacy were it not for the conducting of the great Vittorio Gui. He was distinctly a veteran by this time, but that is undetectable, such is the lightness of touch and perfect stylishness of his Rossini performance. Victoria de los Angeles is a gentler, perhaps more refined Rosina than most – already almost the believable countess – and Alva and Bruscantini were the classic interpreters of their roles. Ian Wallace is a delightfully three-dimensional Bartolo, and contrasts well with Carlo Cava as Basilio.


NAXOS (3 Bargain-price CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1992

Conductor: Will Humburg
Faloni Chamber Orchestra
Sonia Ganassi (Rosina), Ramon Vargas (Almaviva), Roberto Servile (Figaro).

This recording is a remarkable bargain from Hungarian forces supporting an international cast that would be difficult and expensive to assemble for a performance today. The three lead performers are now more likely to be heard singing heavier Italian repertoire, but in 1992 they were near ideal interpreters of Rossini’s classic comedy. The other roles are just as good, with Roberto de Candia as Basilio and Angelo Romero as Bartolo. Will Humburg leads a performance that is as good as anything on the market.

The Cast

 Bartolo's servant
 a doctor, Rosina's guardian
 Bartolo's housekeeper
Count Almaviva
Don Basilio
 a singing teacher
 a barber
 servant of the Count
 Bartolo's ward
 to Dr Bartolo

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