Major Operas | Il barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini | Early Romantic
Rossini’s opera was given its first performance, in Rome, on 20 February 1816, but not under the name by which it is now known. The reason was that Rossini’s Il barbiere was faced with a rival – an opera on the same subject by Giovanni Paisiello, that had first been produced in St Petersburg in 1782.
More than 30 years later, when the first performance of Rossini’s opera was about to take place, Paisiello’s Il barbiere was still enjoying great popularity among Italian opera audiences. Rossini was therefore obliged to resort to subterfuge: he changed his title to Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione (‘Almaviva or The Useless Precaution’). The title Il barbiere di Siviglia was not used until it was performed in Bologna later on in 1816.
However, the opera illustrated Rossini’s use of a common practice among nineteenth-century opera composers – borrowing from their own works as long as the reused music was not first performed in the town that had heard the original. This was how Rossini’s overture for Il barbiere was the third run of this music: he had already used the overture in his Aureliano in Palmira (1813) and Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra (‘Elizabeth, Queen of England’, 1815).
The beautiful Rosina, ward of Dr Bartolo, is confined in the doctor’s house. Count Almaviva, disguised as a poor student, Lindoro, stands below her window with a group of musicians and serenades her. She does not come to the window, so the musicians, receiving payment from the count, depart. Figaro, the town barber, approaches, boasting of his skills and importance. The count offers him a reward, if he will assist the count in gaining entry to Bartolo’s house and wooing Rosina. The count, as Lindoro, sings again to Rosina, who is entranced by his voice and drops him a note as Bartolo pulls her away from the window. Figaro suggests than the count should go to the house disguised as a drunken soldier and say that he has been billeted there.
Rosina recalls Lindoro’s voice and decides to try and outwit Bartolo. Meanwhile Bartolo is warned by Don Basilio, the music master, that Count Almaviva has designs on Rosina. Bartolo hopes to marry Rosina himself and Basilio suggests slandering the count, to which Bartolo agrees. Figaro overhears and relates to Rosina that Bartolo plans to marry her the next day; she entrusts him with a note for Lindoro. The housekeeper, Berta, opens the door to a drunken soldier – the count in disguise – who is demanding lodging; Bartolo refuses him entry. The count manages to pass Rosina a love letter, but Bartolo is watching. When he demands to see it, Rosina hands him a laundry list. Figaro enters with the news that a crowd has gathered outside to see what the commotion is about. The police arrive and arrest...
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