Gioachino Rossini The Barber Of Seville

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  • The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini. Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi, Luigi Alva, and Nicola Zaccaria. The Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Alceo Galliera. Recorded February 7-9 & 11-14, 1957 at Methodist Hall, Kingsway, London. Transferred from the original stereo Angel LP set CL-3559 by Bob Varney.
  • This spring, live opera returns to the Bay Area with an outdoor, drive-in opera production of The Barber of Seville at the Marin Center in San Rafael. This zany new, 90-minute adaptation of Rossini’s romantic comedy takes place in an enchanting setting under the stars.
  • Gioachino Antonio Rossini (29 February 1792 – 13 November 1868) was an Italian composer who gained fame for his 39 operas, although he also wrote many songs, some chamber music and piano pieces, and some sacred music.He set new standards for both comic and serious opera before retiring from large-scale composition while still in his thirties, at the height of his popularity.

The Barber of Seville by San Francisco Opera. Michael Milenski. San Francisco has fielded, masterfully, a giganticized miniaturized version of Gioachino Rossini’s iconic masterwork Il barbiere di Siviglia in a parking lot for hundreds of socially distanced cars. It is jaw-dropping grand opera by all standards, notably the erection.

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Jean-Louis Caussou
Former Editor, Opéra (journal), Paris. Author of Rossini.
Alternative Title: Gioachino Antonio Rossini

Gioachino Rossini, in full Gioachino Antonio Rossini, (born February 29, 1792, Pesaro, Papal States [Italy]—died November 13, 1868, Passy, near Paris, France), Italian composer noted for his operas, particularly his comic operas, of which The Barber of Seville (1816), Cinderella (1817), and Semiramide (1823) are among the best known. Of his later, larger-scale dramatic operas, the most widely heard is William Tell (1829).

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Early years

Gioachino Rossini was the son of Giuseppe Rossini, an impoverished trumpeter who played in miscellaneous bands and orchestras, and Anna Guidarini, a singer of secondary roles. Thus, Rossini spent his entire childhood in the theatre. Though a lazy student, the young Rossini found it easy to learn to sing and play. At age 14 he entered Bologna’s Philharmonic School (now the G.B. Martini State Conservatory of Music) and composed his first opera seria—Demetrio e Polibio (1806; staged in 1812)—for the Mombelli, a family of singers. At 15 he had learned the violin, horn, and harpsichord and had often sung in public, even in the theatre, to earn some money.

When his voice broke and he was unable to continue singing, Rossini became an accompanist and then a conductor. He had already realized the importance of the German school of composition, perceiving the new elements by which Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had enriched music. These influences can be found in the early cantata he wrote for the Philharmonic School, performed there in 1808. During the next 20 years (from 1808) this genial lazybones was to compose more than 40 operas.

Italian period

Gioachino Rossini's Barber Of Seville Largo Al Factotum

By taste, and soon by obligation, Rossini threw himself into the genre then fashionable: opera buffa (comic opera). His first opera buffa, La cambiale di matrimonio (1810; The Bill of Marriage), was performed in Venice and had a certain success, although his unusual orchestration made the singers indignant. Back in Bologna again, he gave the cantataLa morte di Didone (1811; The Death of Dido) in homage to the Mombelli family, who had helped him so much, and he scored a triumph with the two-act opera buffa L’equivoca stravagante (1811; The Extravagant Misunderstanding). The following year, two more of his comic operas were produced in Venice.

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Rossini had already broken the traditional form of opera buffa: he embellished his melodies (he was the true creator of bel canto, a florid style of singing), animated his ensembles and finales, used unusual rhythms, restored to the orchestra its rightful place, and put the singer at the service of the music. In 1812 Rossini wrote the oratorioCiro in Babilonia (Cyrus in Babylon) and La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder), another comic opera.

The same year, Marietta Marcolini, who had already sung in Rossini’s operas and who was interested in the young composer, recommended Rossini to the committee of La Scala opera house in Milan. It was under contract to them that he wrote La pietra del paragone (1812; The Touchstone), a touchstone of his budding genius. In its finale, Rossini—for the first time—made use of the crescendo effect that he was later to use and abuse indiscriminately.

By this time Rossini’s experience in writing seven operas and several cantatas and his intimate contact with the theatre had given him a profound knowledge of his profession. Singers no longer held terrors for him. He was now ready for his major works. Venice, the most-refined city in Italy, was to offer him his true glory. After the comic opera Il signor Bruschino (1813), written for the San Moisè Theatre, he next wrote—for La Fenice—his first serious opera, Tancredi (1813), in which he tried to reform opera seria (the formula-ridden, serious operas of the 18th century), and he composed an authentically dramatic score. This work, spirited and melodious, was an instant success. Tancredi’s famous song, “Di tanti palpiti,” was whistled all over town. The success of L’Italiana in Algeri (1813; The Italian Girl in Algiers) followed, showing further refinements in his reforms of opera buffa. These two successes opened wide the doors of La Scala. With Aureliano in Palmira (1814) the composer affirmed his authority over the singers; he decided to prescribe and write the ornaments for his arias, but the work was not a success. After L’Italiana he wrote Il Turco in Italia (1814; The Turk in Italy) for the Milanese and a cantata for Princess Belgioioso, “one of the most likeable of protectresses,” as the French novelist Stendhal referred to her. Rossini’s next work, Sigismundo (1814), was a failure.

Rossini’s fame soon spread to Naples, where the reigning impresario was Domenico Barbaia, an ambitious former coffeehouse waiter who by gambling and running a gaming house had amassed a fortune and was now in charge of the two great Neapolitan theatres. Barbaia realized Rossini’s growing fame and went to Bologna to offer him a contract. Impressed by the terms of this contract—security, two operas a year—as well as by Barbaia, a millionaire rather than the customary fourth-rate impresario on the verge of bankruptcy, Rossini did not hesitate to accept. How could anyone refuse a tempting impresario whose favourite was none other than the imposing diva Isabella Colbran?

Colbran’s first Rossini opera, Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra (1815; Elizabeth, Queen of England), was a triumphant success. Rossini admired Colbran very much and soon fell in love with her. The brilliant success of Elisabetta prompted an invitation from Rome to spend the Carnival season of 1816. The first of Rossini’s Rome operas was unsuccessful. So was the second, Almaviva, soon to become Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816; The Barber of Seville). The Romans, who knew and loved Giovanni Paisiello’s version of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’s play, took a dislike to this new setting, but when it was given elsewhere in Italy it was received with unbounded success. Written in less than three weeks, the work is a piece of inspired inventiveness that has delighted opera lovers ever since. There followed La cenerentola (1817; Cinderella). As with The Barber, this work uses a contralto for the heroine’s role (though both roles are often sung by sopranos); it proved no less successful. In between these two comedies came Otello (1816; Othello), a setting of William Shakespeare’s play that held the stage until superseded by Giuseppe Verdi’s greater opera of the same name. La gazza ladra (1817; The Thieving Magpie), a semi-serious work, was a triumph in Milan.

Armida, a grand opera requiring a trio of tenors and a dramatic soprano (Colbran), appeared in 1817. Rossini was now finding interpreters that suited his music. Colbran, the tenor Manuel del Popolo García, the bass Filippo Galli (“the most beautiful voice in Italy”), and the contralto Benedetta Pisaroni (whose art had no equal in depth) were his usual exponents and carried forward his art of bel canto.

La donna del lago (based on Sir Walter Scott’s poem “The Lady of the Lake”) failed at its premiere in 1819 but soon came into favour. After several more-or-less successful works, he left Naples for Vienna, along with Colbran (whom he had just married), anxious to meet Ludwig van Beethoven. Disappointed by the economic situation of the composer of Fidelio, he returned to Venice, where he attempted to crown his Italian career with Semiramide (1823). The old-fashioned Venetians, however, did not understand the astonishing work, his longest and most ambitious, and so he resolved not to write another note for his countrymen. Following his resolution, he decided to leave Italy.

Quick Facts
February 29, 1792
Pesaro, Italy
November 13, 1868 (aged 76)
Passy or Paris, France
notable works
movement / style

Gioachino Rossini: The Barber of Seville Overture


Gioachino Rossini’s highly popular comic opera, The Barber of Seville was premiered on 20th February 1816 at the Teatro Argentina in Rome. The libretto for the opera was based on Pierre Beaumarchais’s comedy Le Barbier de Séville (1775). Rossini composed some of the most engaging operas of all time, with The Barber of Seville being regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of comedy within music – “the opera buffa of all opere buffe!”

The Music

The original Overture for The Barber of Seville was mysteriously lost after its premiere in 1816. However, Rossini, armed with a chest of musical delights not yet used, recycled some of his old opera themes and created what we now know today as the Overture to The Barber of Seville.

Therefore, similarly to that of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro Overture, Rossini’s new opener bears absolutely no musical resemblance to that of any of the opera’s music. This can sometimes prove a hard sell for the composer when the music didn’t represent the product, however the quirky Overture became one of his staple works, with it often being heard as a stand-alone concert piece.


Music From The Barber Of Seville

Opening with a fanfare that turns into a short musical exchange between the winds and strings, the opening is in typical Rossini style. Through this slow movement there is a real element of suppressed energy that just wants to burst out. A repeat of the opening fanfare line leads the orchestra into the much-anticipated faster section.

Fast string movement builds the excitement when the material is then passed onto the flourishing winds. Chromatic movement colours the fast moving harmonic language in the Overture, which leaves Rossini to lay the foundations for his iconic dynamic builds.

Wind and horn solos dominate the next section with a real light touch dominating the character of this section. The tempo picks up again with the decorations becoming tighter and more exciting. A sequence of small pauses are heard to break the tension before a reprise of the opening material is heard.

Rossini builds the dynamic up, teasing the listener every time the music begins to swell but comes right back down again. The tempo builds again as the orchestra begins to unite for the final few bars of this exhilarating Overture. Descending chromatic movement dominates the tension building as repetitive strings play alternating lines that leads the Overture to a rousing finish.

Final Thoughts

There is a reason why Rossini’s Overtures are some of his finest examples of orchestral writing. Even when the musical material bears no effect on the actual opera, it has still become one of his most iconic works. It has been arranged numerous times over the years for different ensembles, with it being a staple in wind and brass band repertory also. A thrilling open to what was to be his most-loved opera.

Ⓒ Alex Burns

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