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ClassicsOnline Home » ROSSINI: Barbiere di Siviglia (Il)
By Jessica Duchen
BBC Music Magazine
Gioachino Rossini (1792 - 1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia
The Barber of Seville
Until recently Rossini was regarded as essentially a
composer of comic operas, and above all of The Barber of Seville. Already for
Beethoven, if we must believe the account of Rossini's visit to him in Vienna
in 1822, the names of Rossini and The Barber were inseparable and in his
opinion Rossini should have continued in that vein. For the five previous
years, however, Rossini had distanced himself from this. In fact from the period
when he had been in Naples working for the Royal San Carlo Theatre, which did
not welcome operas of an inferior kind, Rossini had only written serious
operas, and, incidentally, works full of stylistic and formal originality. His comic
and semiserious operas, on the other hand, had been written for houses outside
Naples, beginning with Rome, where his semiserious opera Torvaldo e Dorliska
was staged in 1815attheTeatro Valle, and his two final Italian comic operas, Il
barbiere di Siviglia, in 1816 at the Teatro Argentina, and La Cenerentola in
1817, again at the Teatro Valle.
Rossini's contract with Duke Francesco Sforza-Cesarini
was signed on 15th December 1815. By its terms he undertook to
provide a comic opera for the coming carnival of 1816. After vainly approaching
lacopo Ferretti for a libretto, he turned to Cesare Sterbini, the librettist of
Torvaldo, who was asked to base his work on the well known comedy of
Beaumarchais, Le barbier de Seville (1775), already the subject of a number of
musical treatments, among them that of Petrosellini for Paisiello (1782) .Both
librettist and composer realised the necessity of distancing themselves from
the work of Petrosellini, to avoid giving the impression that they were
competing with the much admired Paisiello and above all to adapt the piece to
modern taste, with its conventions, very different from those of the version of
Petrosellini and Paisiello. The necessity of such an adaptation was ignored,
however, by Francesco Morlacchi, who was able calmly to write new music for the
Petrosellini text for performance in Dresden in 1816. These exigencies were
explicitly revealed in the libretto printed for the first performance of
Rossini's opera on 20th February , 1816, with Gertrude Ighetti Giorgi, Emanuele
Garcia, Luigi Zamboni, Bartolomeo Botticelli and Zenobio Vitarelli. The
title-page read: Almaviva / o sia / L'inutile precauzione / commedia / del
signor Beaumarchais / Di nuovo interamente versificata, e / ridotta al uso
dell'odierno teatro / Musicale Italiano (Almaviva or The Useless Precaution,
Comedy by Signor Beaumarchais, newly put into verse and adapted for the modern
Italian musical theatre). The printed Notice to the Public continued:
The comedy of M. Beaumarchais entitled II barbiere di
Siviglia o sia L'inutile precauzione is presented in Rome adapted as a comic
drama under the title Almaviva o sia L'inutile precauzione, with the object of
fully convincing the public of the feelings of respect and veneration
entertained by the composer of the music of the present drama for the famous
Paisiello, who has already treated this subject under its original title.
Invited to undertake the same difficult task, Maestro Gioachino Rossini, in
order not to incur the charge of impudent rivalry with the immortal composer
who has preceded him, has expressly requested that II Barbiere di Siviglia
should be newly put into verse and that the musical numbers should be
differently arranged, in view of the changes in modern dramatic taste that have
taken place since the period in which the famous Paisiello wrote his music.
Another difference in the arrangement of the present
drama and that of the
French comedy arose because of the necessity of
introducing into the same story choruses, so much a part of modern practice and
indispensable to achieve the required musical effect in a theatre of
considerable size. For this reason the understanding of the public is requested
for the composer of the new drama, who, without these pressing considerations,
would not have dared to introduce the smallest change in the French play
already sanctified by the applause of theatre audiences throughout Europe.
The librettist and composer originally planned the
musical numbers as follows:
-Serenade and Cavatina with Choruses and Introduction
-Another (Cavatina) for the Prima Donna
-Duet: (Prima) Donna and Figaro -scene
-Figaro tells her of the Count's love
-Grand Duet for the Count and Figaro
-Aria for Vitarelli (later Don Basilio)
-Aria of the Tutor with Pertichino
-Tenor disguised as a music-master gives a lesson to the
-then the aria of the same in the same scene
-Second Donna Aria
-Quartet: Figaro ready to shave the Tutor, while the
Count flirts with the
Donna. The Tutor believes himself ill and takes his leave
-Terzetto: Figaro, Donna and Tenor
-Tenor Grand Aria
Comparing this scheme with the final result, it is easy
to understand the changes in the plan of work. It is worth noticing the
adjustments brought about to improve the dramatic continuity, the insertion of
the storm and of the character of Don Basilio to provide action in the Quartet,
without recourse to the instruction "di scena". This characteristic,
together with the abundance of ensemble numbers, half the total, is eloquent
testimony to the desire of Sterbini and Rossini to bring the greatest possible dynamism
to the piece itself. The structural size of such numbers and the turns they give
the plot are an even more precise indication of the measure of the changes that
had taken place since the time of Paisiello. The Dionysiac possibilities of
Rossini's music are revealed and were explicitly pointed out in a contemporary
commentary on the opera. In 1830 Carlo Ritorni asked, with reference to the entry
of Figaro: "But what is this aria? It is a song by a barber about his own
life, sung in the street, on his way home". He went on to point out that
Figaro's appearance on the stage is so noisy and in contrast to the preceding
simple canzonetta, sung only with the accompaniment of the guitar, that it
suggests the arrival, with his band, of the regiment of the Count's friend, the
colonel... and when the barber talks again of his shop and what happens there,
to the noisy accompaniment of the orchestra, it seems certain that musicians,
dancers and others are entering, producing a lively and very considerable
disturbance. The music went beyond the simple task of imitating nature and
illustrating the text, introducing an element of intoxicated exuberance that overturns
reason and overleaps in one bound the limitations imposed by class.
 As usual in Italian opera of the period, there is an
instrumental introduction or Sinfonia before the curtain rises, customarily
without connection with the stage action to follow. In this case Rossini used
again a Sinfonia that he had written in 1813 for an opera seria, Aureliano in Palmira,
and had already transferred in 1815 to another opera seria, Elisabetta, regina d'lnghilterra.
This, according to custom, consists of a short slow introduction, here an
Andante sostenuto in E major, followed by the main part of the movement, an
Allegro, which starts in E minor but ends in E major. The Andante presents a
short tripartite division, frequent in similar Rossini instrumental pieces. A
cantabile episode of a clearly delineated rhythmic, melodic and harmonic kind,
is preceded and followed by a dramatic section. The Allegro follows a plan typical
A first subject, here in E minor, is stated twice by the
first violins, accompanied only by the strings. A tutti for full orchestra
leads to D major, the dominant of the relative major of E minor, G major, and a
second subject, in G major, is entrusted principally to the wind, introduced by
the oboe and completed by the flute and repeated at once by horn and flute.
A crescendo in G major, in which the full orchestra
gradually joins, returns, in a brief linking passage, to E minor.
The first subject is repeated, with the second subject in
E major played by clarinet and flute and then by bassoon and flute. A crescendo
in E major, in which the whole orchestra gradually joins, is followed by an E
major conclusion for the full orchestra.
The curtain rises on a square in Seville. The house of
Don Bartolo faces onto the square. Day is breaking.
 Fiorello, servant of Count Almaviva, brings in a
group of musicians, imploring them to be quiet ("Piano pianissimo").
He is immediately joined by the Count, who assures himself that all is in
place. He has arranged a serenade for the beautiful girl that he had met before
at the Prado in Madrid. Falling in love at first sight, he has followed her to Seville
and there has courted her without success. Because the girl lives in the house
of Don Bartolo, he thinks she is his daughter.  Accompanied by the musicians
he has hired, the Count sings a song (the Cavatina "Ecco ridente in
cielo"). The girl, however, gives no sign of life.  Disappointed, the
Count prepares to dismiss the musicians, telling Fiorello to pay them
("Ehi, Fiorello? Mio signore"). Their noisy gratitude annoys the
Count, who is afraid that they will wake the whole neighbourhood ("Mille
grazie, mio signore").
 Once these noisy musicians have gone ("Gente
indiscreta"), the Count sends
Fiorello away but stays in the square, hoping to see the
girl when she comes out onto the balcony and to be able to speak to her.
Someone is heard approaching, heralded by his singing, audible from a distance.
 It is the barber-surgeon Figaro on the way to his
shop, singing a song in celebration of himself and his thousands of activities
("La ran la lera").
 While Figaro continues to sing his own praises
("Ah, ah! che bella vita"), the Count draws near, believing that he
recognizes him. Figaro too recognizes the Count and bows in deference, but the
latter stops him, since he is in Seville incognito. He then tells Figaro the
reason for his presence there: Figaro can give him information, since he has
access to the house, being of service to Don Bartolo in a number of ways.
Figaro tells him that the girl is not the daughter of Don Bartolo, but only his
While the two of them are talking, the girl, Rosina,
appears on the balcony of Don Bartolo's house, looking to see if her lover is
there as usual: she wants to send him a love-letter. The Count appears, but at
the same time the voice of the crusty old Don Bartolo is heard within, asking
the reason for the note that Rosina is holding. Rosina invents an excuse,
saying that it is the words of a fashionable aria, from the opera Vain
Precaution (Inutil Precauzione), and she lets it fall, pretending to do so by accident.
While Don Bartolo rushes into the street to find and recover it, Rosina signals
to the Count to take it. Furious, Don Bartolo tells her to go back into the
house, threatening to treat her with even greater severity.
 The Count pities her enforced seclusion ("Povera
disgraziata!"), but Figaro urges him to read the note. Rosina asks him to
reveal his identity and intentions, as soon as her tyrannical guardian leaves
the house, and declares that she is disposed to free herself from her present
situation. Figaro tells the Count that Don Bartolo is an old miser and grumbler
who has it in mind to marry Rosina in order to take her money. While the two of
them are talking, Don Bartolo comes out of the house with the intention of
arranging the marriage that evening. Figaro exhorts the Count to take advantage
of the situation to declare himself to Rosina.
 The Count complies in a simple canzonetta ("Se
ii mio nome saper voi bramate"), in which he says he is called Lindoro and
is not rich but in love: he does not actually want Rosina to love him for his
titles and riches. Rosina prepares to reply, when she is obliged to break off
and withdraw from the window.
 At this point the Count is bursting with impatience
("Oh cielo!") and asks Figaro to help him, promising him in return a
 At the thought of a reward, Figaro begins to devise
a stratagem to bring the two lovers together ("All'idea di quel metallo").
First he suggests that the Count pretend that he is an officer of a regiment
about to arrive in the city and that he is to be billeted on Don Bartolo. If he
then pretends to be drunk, he is less likely to awaken the suspicions of the
old man. Before going, Figaro tells the Count the address of his shop ("Numero
quindici, a mano manca').
 The scene ends with Fiorello complaining of his lot,
standing waiting now for two hours for his master ("Ev-viva il mio
The scene is inside the house of Don Bartolo.
 In her room Rosina is writing a letter to Lindoro and
gives vocal expression to her thoughts of love, at the same time revealing
herself as a girl of some spirit ("Una voce poco fa - lo sono docile, son rispettosa").
 Rosina does not know to whom she can give her letter
for Lindoro ("Si, si, la vincerb").  Figaro joins her ("Oh buon
dl, signorina!") and tells her that he can help her, but Don Bartolo arrives
and Figaro has to hide.  Her guardian inveighs against Figaro ("Ah, disgraziato
Figaro!"), who has upset all the servants through his prescribed cures,
giving Berta sneezing powder and Ambrogio a soporific.  Soon Don Basilio,
Rosina's music-master, arrives, interrupting Don Bartolo ("Ah! Barbiere d'inferno..."),
and tells him that Count Almaviva has come to Seville. Don Bartolo knows of his
love for Rosina and means to speed up his own marriage. Don Basilio helps him
by spreading false stories about the Count.
 Don Basilio expounds the terrible and destructive
power of slander ("La calunnia e un venticello").
 The two men withdraw to discuss matters ("Ah! che
ne dite?") and prepare the marriage contract, [DJ but Figaro, in hiding,
has heard everything ("Ma bravi! ma benone!") and immediately tells
Rosina. Pretending to be his cousin, he tells her of Lindoro and his love for
 Rosina feigns ingenuous surprise, but in fact she had
understood everything very well and had already written herself the note that
Figaro seeks ("Dunque io son... tu non m'inganni"). The latter realises
that he has nothing to teach her.
 Figaro leaves with the message for Lindoro and Don
Bartolo returns to question Rosina. He suspects that the real purpose of his
visit was to send messages to the two young men and he seeks to prove
definitely that Rosina has just written a note.
 Don Bartolo tells Rosina he is no fool and that if
she does not own up he will see she is kept locked in ("A un dottor della mia
sorte - Signorina, un'altra volta").
 Rosina, however, is not intimidated ("Brontola quanto
vuoi"), leaving her maid Berta to complain  that she never has a
moment's peace ("Finora in questa camera"). There is the sound of
knocking at the door.
No.9 Finale I
 The Count, dressed as an officer and pretending to
be drunk, demands the lodging allotted to him (Quintetto: "Ehi di casa,
buona gente"). Don Bartolo confronts him, trying to refuse him. In the
midst of this Rosina comes in and at once recognizes Lindoro, while he,
profiting from the confusion, tries to pass her a note. Partly through his
increasingly heated argument with the Count and his growing suspicions of his maladroit
attempts to pass a message to Rosina, Don Bartolo is at the end of his tether.
Rosina saves the situation by hiding the note and substituting a harmless laundry-list.
Don Bartolo is in consternation at the mistake he believes to have been made
and Rosina stresses her complaints against his continuing suspicions. 
Figaro arrives declaring that such a clamour has brought
half the inhabitants of the city into the square outside ("Alto la! Che cosa
accadde") .Don Bartolo and the Count continue to quarrel, while Figaro, in
an aside, urges the latter to prudence. At this point the police appear at the
door ("Fermi tutti, niun si muova"). Those present surround the
police officer, giving him their own version of events. They are convinced of
the guilt of the intruder and are about to arrest him, but the Count privately
reveals his true identity and instead of being taken to prison is treated with respect.
 Don Bartolo is frightened (Largo: "Freddo ed immobile") and 
does not know what to do or think ("Ma signor"). There is general confusion ("Mi par d'esser con la testa").
The scene is a room in the house of Don Bartolo.
 Don Bartolo is wondering about the intrusion that has
just taken place ("Ma vedi il mio destino!"), suspecting that the
mysterious officer might be an emissary of Count Almaviva. There is a noise at
 It is the Count again, this time disguised as a
music-master, bowing low in unctuous greeting ("Pace e gioia sia con voi").
 The Count says that he is Don Alonso and is taking
the place of Don Basilio, who is ill and he is to replace him for Rosina's
lesson. He has incidentally intercepted a note from Count Almaviva to Rosina
and wants to give it personally to Don Bartolo to ingratiate himself with him.
[!] Don Bartolo goes to call Rosina for her lesson ("Venite, signorina").
No. 11 Aria
The girl, who has immediately recognized Lindoro, knows
how to profit from the situation.  While singing a rondo ("Contro un cor
che accende amore - Cara
immagine ridente"), she takes the opportunity of
communicating, sot to voce, her real feelings ("Ah Lindoro, mio tesoro").
 The Count praises Rosina's voice ("Bella voce! Bravissima!"),
but Don Bartolo is irritated by these modern arias and demands something simple
from his own generation.
 As an example he sings an older song ("Quando mi
 Figaro comes in, imitating Don Bartolo, to the
latter's annoyance ("Bravo, signor barbiere"). Don Bartolo says that
he does not want to be shaved, but Figaro insists. When he gives him the keys
to fetch the necessary towels, Figaro takes the key of the door that gives onto
No. 13 Quintetto
 Don Basilio unexpectedly appears, to general surprise
and embarrassment ("Don Basilio! Cosa veggo?"). With a little luck
and the help of money given him secretly by the Count,  Don Basilio finally
takes his leave ("Buona sera, mio signore") and Figaro can start
shaving Don Bartolo ("Orsu, signor Don Bartolo").  While they are
occupied ("Stringi, bravissimo"), Lindoro communicates to Rosina his intention
of coming at night to take her away. Don Bartolo, however, overhears and inveighs
against them all ("Bricconi, birbanti").
 Left alone, Don Bartolo reflects on all this
performance ("Ah! disgraziato me!") and sends for Don Basilio. The
old servant Berta complains about the situation in the house.
No. 14 Aria
 He who wants a wife, she who wants a husband, all of
them are mad ("II
vecchiotto cerca moglie"). Herself, Berta would not
be insensible to love, but no-one wants her any more.
 On the arrival of Don Basilio everything is made
clear ("Dunque voi Don Alonso"). Not only was Don Alonso an impostor,
but he must have been the Count in person. Don Bartolo decides to send
immediately for the notary for the marriage contract. At this point Don Bartolo
has an idea.  ("Per forza o per amore") Profiting from the fact
that Rosina does not know that Lindoro is in reality Count Almaviva, he makes her
believe that Figaro is doing Count Almaviva's dirty work. Rosina is indignant
and reveals to Don Bartolo their whole plan of flight. The police are summoned
to arrest Figaro and the Count as thieves.
No. 15 Storm 
 While the storm rages, thanks to the key he has
taken, Figaro and the Count enter Don Bartolo's house by means of a ladder up
to Rosina's balcony ("Alfine, eccoci qua"). Rosina receives them with
abuse, and at this point the Count reveals his true identity.
No. 16 Terzetto
 Rosina is amazed ("Ah qual colpo inaspettato"),
the Count is ecstatic and Figaro delighted at his success, but urges the two
lovers to leave. Suddenly he realises that someone is about to come into the
room and tells them to make their escape by the same ladder by which the two of
them had made their entry ("Zit ti zitti, piano piano").
 The three of them quickly realise, however, that the
ladder has gone ("Ah,
disgraziati noi! come si fa?"). Don
Basilio and the notary come in and Figaro and the Count force the latter to
draw up a marriage contract between the Count and Rosina, and the former to act
as witness. When Don Bartolo arrives with the police, everything has already
No.17 Scena and Aria
 To general amazement at what has happened and at the
presence of the Count
("II Conte! ah, che mai sento!"),  Almaviva
invites Don Bartolo to accept the situation, Rosina finally to be happy and
everyone to respect their union ("Cessa di pill resistere - E tu infelice vittima
- Ah il pill lieto, il pill felice").
 Disappointed, Don Bartolo regrets what has happened
but then resigns himself to forgive them ("Insomma io ho tutti i torti!").
No.18 Finaletto II
 At the invitation of Figaro, all join in general
rejoicing ("Di si felice innesto").
Notes and Synopsis by Professor Paolo Fabbri
(English translation by Keith Anderson)
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