The Metropolitan Opera Guild

IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA

Opera in Two Acts 
Music by Gioacchino Rossini 
Text in Italian by Cesare Sterbini, after the play Le Barbier de Séville by Pierre Auguste Caron Beaumarchais 
World Premiere: Rome, Teatro Argentina, February 2, 1816 
U.S. Premiere: New York, Park Theatre, May 17, 1819 
Metropolitan Opera Premiere: November 23, 1883 

 

THE CHARACTERS 
 
Rosina (mezzo-soprano): Young and beautiful, Rosina is trapped in the house of her guardian, Dr. Bartolo, who wants to marry her for her money.
Count Almaviva (tenor): A rich and handsome young nobleman smitten with Rosina. Almaviva approaches Rosina in the guise of a poor student to make sure that she loves him for himself and not his title or money.
Figaro (baritone): The town barber who always manages to be in the middle of whatever’s going on. He helps Almaviva devise a plan to take Rosina away from Dr. Bartolo.
Dr. Bartolo (bass): Rosina's guardian, an old, jealous, greedy quack doctor who hopes to make a fortune by forcing his young ward to marry him. Knowing that Rosina hates him, Bartolo has imprisoned her inside his house.
Don Basilio (bass): Rosina's singing teacher and Bartolo's accomplice.
Fiorello (baritone): A musician paid by Count Almaviva to serenade the lovely Rosina.
Seargent (tenor): A policeman.
Ambrogio (tenor): servant of Bartolo.
Berta (soprano): servant of Bartolo.
 
SYNOPSIS 
 
ACT I. Count Almaviva comes in disguise to the house of Dr. Bartolo to serenade Rosina ("Ecco ridente"). Dr. Bartolo keeps Rosina confined to the house. Almaviva pays the musicians and decides to wait until daylight in the hope of seeing her. Figaro the barber, who has access to the houses in Seville and knows the town's secrets and scandals, arrives and describes his busy life ("Largo al factotum"). The Count sings another serenade to Rosina, calling himself Lindoro, a poor student. Figaro devises a plan: the Count will disguise himself as a drunken soldier quartered at Dr. Bartolo's house to gain access to Rosina, whom Dr. Bartolo intends to marry. The Count is excited about this plan, while Figaro looks forward to a nice cash payoff from the grateful Count ("All'idea di quel metallo").

Rosina reflects on the voice that has enchanted her heart and resolves to use her considerable wiles to meet Lindoro ("Una voce poco fa"). Dr. Bartolo appears with Rosina's music master, Don Basilio, who warns him that Count Almaviva, Rosina's admirer, has been seen in Seville. Dr. Bartolo decides to marry Rosina immediately. Basilio praises slander as the most effective means of getting rid of Almaviva ("La calunnia"). Figaro overhears the plot, warns Rosina and promises to deliver a letter from her to Lindoro ("Dunque io son"). Suspicious of Rosina, Dr. Bartolo tries to prove that she has written a letter, but she outwits him at every turn. Dr. Bartolo is angry at her defiance and warns her not to trifle with him ("A un dottor della mia sorte").

Almaviva arrives, disguised as a drunken soldier, and passes Rosina a note, which she manages to hide from Dr. Bartolo. The old man argues that he has exemption from billeting soldiers. Figaro announces that a crowd has gathered in the street, curious about all the noise coming from inside the house. The civil guard bursts in to arrest the drunken soldier. The Count reveals his true identity to the captain and is instantly released. All but Figaro are amazed by this turn of events, and everyone comments on the crazy events of the morning.

ACT II. Dr. Bartolo suspects that the "drunken soldier" was a spy planted by Almaviva. The Count returns, this time disguised as Don Alonso, a music teacher and student of Don Basilio ("Pace e gioia sia con voi"). He has come to give Rosina her music lesson in place of Basilio who, he says, is ill at home. "Don Alonso" also tells Dr. Bartolo that he is staying at the same inn as Almaviva and has found the letter from Rosina. He offers to tell Rosina that it was given to him by another woman, proving that Lindoro is toying with her on Almaviva's behalf. This convinces Dr. Bartolo that "Don Alonso" is a true student of Don Basilio, and he allows him to give Rosina her music lesson ("Contro un cor").

Figaro arrives to give Dr. Bartolo his shave and manages to snatch the key that opens the balcony shutters. The shaving is about to begin when Basilio shows up looking perfectly healthy. The Count, Rosina and Figaro convince Basilio, with repeated assurances and a quick bribe, that he is sick with scarlet fever ("Buona sera, mio signore"). Basilio leaves for home, confused but richer. The shaving begins, sufficiently distracting Dr. Bartolo from hearing Almaviva plotting with Rosina to elope that night. Dr. Bartolo hears the phrase "my disguise" and furiously realizes he has been tricked again.

Everyone leaves.

The maid Berta comments on the crazy household ("Il vecchiotto cerca moglie").

Basilio is summoned and told to bring a notary, so Dr. Bartolo can marry Rosina that very evening. Dr. Bartolo then shows Rosina her letter to Lindoro. Heartbroken and convinced that she has been deceived, she agrees to marry Dr. Bartolo and tells him of the plan to elope with Lindoro. A storm passes. Figaro and the Count climb over the wall. Rosina is furious until Almaviva reveals his true identity. Basilio arrives with the notary. Given a choice between a valuable ring and a couple of bullets in the head, Basilio agrees to be a witness to the marriage of Rosina and Almaviva. Dr. Bartolo arrives with soldiers, but it is too late. Count Almaviva explains to Dr. Bartolo that it is useless to protest ("Cessa di più resistere"), and Dr. Bartolo accepts that he has been beaten. Figaro, Rosina and the Count celebrate their good fortune.

 
OPERA BACKGROUND 

Background Information on Il Barbiere di Siviglia 

In December of 1815, Duke Francesco Sforza-Cesarini, the owner-impresario of the Teatro di Torre Argentina, commissioned Rossini to compose a new opera for his theater. In the terms of the contract, Rossini agreed to compose an opera in five weeks, with the stipulation that he accept any libretto that the Duke gave him, adapt the music to the singers’ particular voices, attend rehearsals and conduct portions of the music. Because Duke Sforza-Cesarini had spent so much money on his other productions, he spent considerably less on this new one. Therefore, Rossini received only a small sum of money for his labors. The star of the production, Manuel Garcia, was paid three times the amount that Rossini received.

Duke Sforza-Cesarini then turned to Cesare Sterbini, a Vatican official and poet, to write the libretto for this new opera. The subject was to be drawn from Beaumarchais’ satirical play, Le Barbier de Seville, even though a very popular opera already existed on the same subject. Giovanni Paisiello had composed the original version, which made its premiere in St. Petersburg on September 26, 1782, and was later staged in Italian opera houses to great acclaim. Realizing that he might cause offense to the older composer, Rossini wrote Paisiello and explained to him why and how he was composing his version. Paisiello wrote back that he took no offense and wished the new opera well.

Sterbini promised a libretto in twelve days and submitted it to Rossini, who completed the first act on February 6, 1816 and delivered it to the orchestra’s concertmaster that day. Rehearsals were to begin on February 7, but during the night before tragedy struck: Duke Sforza-Cesarini, only 45 years old, died of a stroke. His successor, Nicola Ratti, and Rossini could not spend time to mourn, because the new opera had to be ready soon thereafter, since the part of the proceeds would be given to Sforza-Cesarini’s widow and children. Rossini composed the remainder of the opera quickly, borrowing music from five of his previous works and several other composers as well. From start to finish, this new work was composed in three weeks’ time.

Paisiello’s version of Il Barbiere di Siviglia was immensely popular, and Sterbini, Rossini and the new impresario Ratti were apprehensive of the public’s reaction to a new setting. To help set his work apart, Rossini called the new opera, Almaviva, or the Useless Precaution. An advertisement printed in the libretto contained this notice: "The comedy by Signor Beaumarchais entitled The Barber of Seville, or the Futile Precaution, is being presented in Rome, adapted as a dramma comico under the title of Almaviva, or the Useless Precaution, this being for the purpose of convincing the public fully of the sentiments of respect and veneration which animate the creator of the music of the present dramma toward the greatly celebrated Paisiello, who dealt with this subject under its original title.

"Called upon to take up the same difficult task, Rossini, wishing not to incur the accusation of a temerarious rivalry with the immortal composer who preceded him, expressly asked that The Barber Of Seville be reversified completely and that some new situations for musical pieces be added, and he further asked that these be to the modern theatrical taste, so much altered since the epoch in which the renowned wrote his music."

What Rossini had tried to prevent was not directed to Paisiello but to his fans. Paisiello had a rabid following of loyal devotees and viewed Rossini’s version of this esteemed opera as an open insult. On opening night, February 20, 1816, these same fans called the Paisiellisti , descended upon the Teatro Argentina to wreak havoc with the composer and the cast. Rossini entered the theater that evening dressed in a hazel, Spanish-style, gold-buttoned outfit. The crowd demonstrated its opinion with whistles, catcalls and laughter. Such behavior would set the tone for the rest of the evening.

What Rossini had tried to prevent was not directed to Paisiello but to his fans. Paisiello had a rabid following of loyal devotees and viewed Rossini’s version of this esteemed opera as an open insult. On opening night, February 20, 1816, these same fans called the Paisiellisti, descended upon the Teatro Argentina to wreak havoc with the composer and the cast. Rossini entered the theater that evening dressed in a hazel, Spanish-style, gold-buttoned outfit. The crowd demonstrated its opinion with whistles, catcalls and laughter. Such behavior would set the tone for the rest of the evening.

When the singer who played Basilio, Zenobio Vitarelli, entered the stage in highly original makeup, he became momentarily distracted by the hoots and whistles and fell over a stage trapdoor, scraped his face badly and almost broke his nose. Bleeding heavily, he pulled out a handkerchief and sang anyway, attempting to staunch the flow. As a result, Vitarelli had to position himself in odd ways, which set the audience off in a whole new round of disapproving noises and laughter.

Shortly thereafter, a cat wandered on the stage and mingled with the performers. Luigi Zamboni, who played the Figaro character, chased it off one side of the stage only for it to appear on the opposite, whereupon the cat leaped dramatically into Bartolommeo Botticelli’s (who played Dr. Bartolo) arms. Then, the cat jumped down and began to tease both Geltrude Righetti (Rosina) and Elisabetta Loyselet, who were afraid of being scratched. Only when the policeman character approached the animal with a sword did it leave, but not before the entire audience called to it and imitated its meows. By now the audience was in a near riot. The singers could hardly concentrate on their performances as the crowd created a constant flow of noise. The worst came when Figaro and Rosina sang their beautiful duet, which was all but drowned out by the audience. After the first act was over, Rossini applauded the performers for holding themselves together admirably and their utmost professionalism. Then he left.

Rossini created a weak excuse, claimed he was ill, went home and promised never to leave his bed. On the next night, the second performance of Almaviva, the public decided that it had behaved unfairly and chose to intently listen to this new work. Everyone was very silent, and realized that they were watching a new masterpiece. Thunderous applause broke out, much to the joy of the cast. But the creator of this work was still missing, pretending to be recuperating from his illness and feigning sleep. Several friends of Rossini’s went to his home and roused him, elated that now his work had been very successful. Subsequent performances only increased the appreciation of the audience.

In June of 1816, Paisiello died. Rossini felt that he could now respectfully change the name of his opera Almaviva back to Il Barbiere di Siviglia without public disapproval. In September, Il Barbiere di Siviglia appeared in Bologna, where it was billed under its present title, and later on in the year moved to Florence. In the next two years, it moved throughout Italy and abroad. By the time it appeared again in Rome, five years later, thousands of performances graced hundreds of stages throughout the world. Today, The Barber of Seville remains one the most popular and frequently performed operas with companies all around the world.