“The Barber of Seville” otherwise known as “The Futile Precaution” is an opera buffa consisting of two acts. The author is Gioachino Rossini. The Italian libretto was written by Cesare Sterbini. The plot was based on a comedy “Le Barbier de Seville” by a French author Pierre Beaumarchais. The premiere was staged at Teatro Argentina in Rome on February 20th, 1816. The comedy has become one of the staples of the genre and has often been noted by both critics and usual viewers as one of the best comedies to have ever been released. Despite its more than respectable two century age, the opera keep on being often staged during our times (Fisher 15).
Interestingly enough, there is lots of correlation between this opera buffa and Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro” although the latter was based on the second installment of Beaumarchais’ trilogy. Musicologists suppose that it took about three weeks to complete the opera. Rossini was renowned for his ability to deliver two operas per year. He managed such quantities throughout 19 years. All of the material was original save for the overture, which was a re-working of two previous operas by Rossini “Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra” and “Aureliano in Palmira.” The premiere was an utter disaster. The second performance was an overwhelming success. Since the second performance, the comedy has always received good reviews from both critics and the public.
The list of the characters and the voice types is the following: Count Almaviva (tenor), Bartolo, doctor of medicine, Rosina’s guardian (bass), Rosina, rich pupil in Bartolo’s house (contralto), Figaro the barber (baritone), Basilio, Rosina’s music teacher and a hypocrite (bass), Berta the old governess in Bartolo’s house (soprano), Fiorello, Almaviva’s servant (bass), Ambrogio, Bartolo’s servant (bass), and the choir and miscellaneous voices for officers, policeman, soldiers, and a notary.
One of the brightest parts of the opera, overture, boasts a wide array of tunes, which perfectly set the mood for the comedy. The dynamics are robust. The melodies develop usually around pianissimo level. The culmination often leads to several strokes of fortissimo, presenting perfect accentuations at the end of the phrases. The melodies are often interrupted by loud chords so as to signify the end of one theme and the start of a new one. The tone is bright and harsh thanks to numerous strings, which sit atop of the sound panorama. The pitch often reaches high frequencies. Most often used intervals are thirds used in the rhythm section. Some melodies feature octaves – two voices leading the same melody simultaneously for a more massive sound. The rhythm is the usual four by four, but one movement of the overture features a 3/4 rhythm resembling a waltz. The tempo speeds up towards the end of the overture urging the viewer to pay attention to what would be happening on the stage soon. Most themes are in major and are performed in allegretto tempo at least, settling, therefore, an appropriate atmosphere before the performance.
Another immensely memorable moment is Figaro’s Aria, otherwise known as “Largo al factotum”, which starts with several immensely fast passages. The voice doubles the melodic line of the strings. The vocal features lots of parts featuring onomatopoeic exclamations, which have no words, but simply augment the chorus. The tempo is allegro vivace. The pitch is high. The tone is bright but warm due to the presence of the voice. The meter is 6/8. The aria was written in C major. The dynamics are rather flat in this piece staying above mezzo forte at all times. This piece is literally the most difficult there is for a baritone voice. Numerous superlatives in Italian ending with -issimo as well as a complicated rhythm with fast tempo make the are very difficult to sing properly. One requires immaculate control over the voice and diction in order to provide a flawless performance.
Another beautiful example from the opera is “Ecco, ridente in cielo.” The beautiful and touching cavatina is sung by Count Almaviva (tenor), who walks in the disguise of a poor student Lindoro. The aria is a prime example of the bel canto style. It was written in C major key signature albeit there are switches through modulations into G major and E major. The transitions are fulfilled through chromatic passages. The vocal range is rather demanding – from F#3 to B4, and the tessitura is between G3 and G4. The pitch for the vocal line is extremely high. The timbre is bright and harsh. The tempo is allegretto. The dynamics verge on the border of mezzo forte and piano (in the quietest spots). Intervals used in accompaniment are mostly quarts and quints.
The opera perfectly mixes funny and merry music with witty lyrics and an entertaining plot line. The music always matches the lyrics in terms of mood and the plot. The music also complements all moments of comedy that are evident. The trademark of the opera are soaring fast and quickly changing melodic lines, which makes the task for any performer quiet challenging. The opera stays famous not only due to the funny contents but thanks to lovely music as well, which is bound to elevate any mood.