Rossini: Barber of Seville Overture

Rossini was born at the little town of Pesaro on Italy’s northern Adriatic Coast, the son of professional musicians. He received his formal musical education at Bologna, and very early began writing operas. His early successes were Tancredi and The Italian Girl in Algiers of 1812 and 1813, and his operas were performed throughout Italy. In 1822 he gave a season in Vienna, and the following year visited London and Paris, where he was to live and work for the next 14 years before returning to Italy. Later he returned to Paris, where he died. Having completed some 38 operas (20 of them not entirely absent from the repertoires of today’s opera houses) he “retired” from composing operas a wealthy man. He confined himself for the next 40 years to the composition of lightweight songs and piano pieces.

The Barber of Seville is based on the first of Beaumarchais’ (1732-1799) two sequential plays, the Marriage of Figaro being the second. The plot revolves around the wooing of the closely chaperoned Rosina by the Count Almaviva. The barber, Figaro, irrepressible, quick-witted, gossip; and general factotum to boot, offers his services to the Count as a sure-fire matchmaker. The result of the humour and intrigue is that the Count and Rosina marry.

The Overture does not contain any themes from the ensuing opera. In fact, Rossini had already used it to preface at least one earlier work, namely Elizabeth, Queen of England in 1815. However, this sparkling tuneful music encompasses the ‘spirit’ of the story that is to unfold on stage.

Rossini, for effect, relies on the trusted formula of the double orchestral crescendo with the wind perhaps getting the best of the tunes throughout.

Rossini’s “Barber” was not an immediate success at its first performance in Rome in 1816, as Paisiella’s opera based on the same story had held the stage since 1782. Over the years the latter has been forgotten, while the former has become one of the world’s favourite “Opera Buffa”