Rossini's opera follows the first of the plays from the Figaro trilogy, by French playwright Pierre Augustin Caron de 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 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 on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America, where it appears as Number 5. The role of Rosina, although written for a coloratura contralto, has, in the past, and sometimes in more recent times, been sung in transposition by sopranos such as Maria Callas, Beverly Sills, Lily Pons, Victoria de los Angeles and Kathleen Battle. Famous recent mezzo-soprano Rosinas include Teresa Berganza, Cecilia Bartoli, Joyce DiDonato and Jennifer Larmore.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, February 20, 1816|
(Conductor: Gioachino Rossini)
|Rosina, Bartolo's ward||contralto or mezzo-soprano||Geltrude Righetti|
|Doctor Bartolo, Rosina's guardian||bass||Bartolomeo Botticelli|
|Count Almaviva, a local nobleman||tenore di grazia||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|
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 soldier and to feign drunkenness in order to gain entrance to the house and, for this suggestion, he 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).
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.
(Rosina, Almaviva, Figaro)
Opera House and Orchestra
|1958|| Maria Callas,|
| Alceo Galliera,|
Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus
|Audio CD: EMI Classics|
|1958|| Roberta Peters,|
| Erich Leinsdorf,|
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
| Audio CD: RCA|
|1972|| Teresa Berganza,|
| Claudio Abbado,|
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
| Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon|
Cat: 457 7332
|1975|| Beverly Sills,|
| James Levine,|
London Symphony Orchestra,
John Alldis Choir
| Audio CD: EMI Classics|
|1987|| Luciana Serra,|
| Bruno Campanella,|
Teatro Regio di Torino Orchestra and Chorus
|Audio CD: Nuova Era|
|1993|| Kathleen Battle,|
| Claudio Abbado,|
Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Chorus
| Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon|
|1997|| Edita Gruberova,|
Juan Diego Florez,
| 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.
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.
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 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!!"