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NBD0065V - ROSSINI, G.: Barbiere di Siviglia (Il) [Opera] (Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, 2017) (Blu-ray, HD)
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Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia


Until recently Rossini was regarded as essentially a composer of comic operas, and above all of Il barbiere di Siviglia (‘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 Il barbiere 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 1815 at the Teatro 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 15 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 Séville (1775), already the subject of a number of musical treatments, among them that of Giuseppe 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 20 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 choruses into the same story, 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:

Act I
– Serenade and Cavatina with Choruses and Introduction
– Figaro’s Cavatina
– Tenor’s Cavatina
– 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
– Grand Finale

Act II
– Tenor disguised as a music-master gives a lesson to the (Prima) Donna
– 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
– Finaletto

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.



Act I

A square in Seville. The house of Don Bartolo faces onto the square. Day is breaking.

No. 1. Introduzione

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.


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.

No. 2. Cavatina

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, la, la, lera… Largo al factotum’).


While Figaro continues to sing his own praises (‘Ah, ah! Che bella vita!’), the Count draws near, believing that he recognises him. Figaro too recognises 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 ward.

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 loveletter. 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 Inutil Precauzione (‘Vain Precaution’), 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, 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.

No. 3. Canzone

The Count complies in a simple canzonetta (‘Se il 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, ciel!’) and asks Figaro to help him, promising him in return a handsome reward.

No. 4. Duetto

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). The scene ends with Fiorello complaining of his lot, standing waiting now for two hours for his master.

Inside the house of Don Bartolo.

No. 5. Cavatina

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’).


Rosina does not know to whom she can give her letter for Lindoro (‘Sì, sì, la vincerò’). Figaro joins her and tells her that he can help her, but Don Bartolo arrives and Figaro has to hide. Her guardian inveighs against 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, 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.

No. 6. Aria

Don Basilio expounds the terrible and destructive power of slander (‘La calunnia è un venticello’).


The two men withdraw to discuss matters (‘Ah, che ne dite?’) and prepare the marriage contract, but Figaro, in hiding, has heard everything and immediately tells Rosina. Pretending to be his cousin, he tells her of Lindoro and his love for her.

No. 7. Duetto

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 (‘Ora mi sento meglio’).

No. 8. Aria

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’).


Rosina, however, is not intimidated (‘Brontola quanto vuoi’), leaving her maid Berta to complain that she never has a moment’s peace. 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 recognises 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. 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. 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 and does not know what to do or think. There is general confusion.

Act II

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 the door.

No. 10. Duetto

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 (‘Pace…’ – ‘Insomma, mio signore’). He has incidentally intercepted a note from Count Almaviva to Rosina and wants to give it personally to Don Bartolo to ingratiate himself. Don Bartolo goes to call Rosina for her lesson.

No. 11. Aria

The girl, who has immediately recognised Lindoro, knows how to profit from the situation. While singing a rondo (‘Contro un cor che accende amore’), she takes the opportunity of communicating, sotto voce, her real feelings.


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.

No. 12. Arietta

As an example, he sings an older song (‘Quando mi sei vicina’).


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 Rosina’s balcony.

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 and Figaro can start shaving Don Bartolo. While they are occupied, Lindoro communicates to Rosina his intention of coming at night to take her away. Don Bartolo, however, overhears and inveighs against them all.


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 non conoscete affatto?’). 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. 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. Temporale (‘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.


The three of them quickly realise, however, that the ladder has gone (‘Ah, disgraziati noi!’). 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 been settled.

No. 17. Recitativo strumentato – No. 18. 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 più resistere’).


Disappointed, Don Bartolo regrets what has happened but then resigns himself to forgive them (‘Insomma io ho tutti i torti!’).

No. 19. Finaletto II

At the invitation of Figaro, all join in general rejoicing (‘Di sì felice innesto’).

Notes and Synopsis by Professor Paolo Fabbri

English translation by Keith Anderson

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