The Barber of Seville, Baths of Caracalla
The manner in which The Barber of Seville (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) was put together was as frenetic as the comedy of its story. Written in a hurry and poorly rehearsed, the premiere at the Teatro Argentina in Rome on 20 February 1816 was little short of a disaster. The fact that Gioachino Rossini’s new opera used the same story as Giovanni Paisiello had done for his own Barber of Seville three decades earlier did not help matters. Supporters of Paisiello shouted down the performers, leaving Rossini convinced that he had produced a flop.
Fortunately, The Barber of Seville recovered quickly from its first-night nerves. Nonetheless, Rossini would probably be pinching himself if he had known that two centuries later The Barber of Seville would still be one of the most consistently performed operas in the world. Not only that: its music, including its overture (which is not an original piece of music but borrowed from another one of Rossini’s operas, Aureliano in Palmira), Rosina’s aria, Una voce poco fa, and Figaro’s famous clarion call, Largo al factotum, have all become staples of the concert repertory.
The Barber of Seville is a quick-paced, good-humoured farce that does not let up for a moment. Figaro, the barber of the title, decides to help the debonair Count Almaviva sweep the lovely Rosina off her feet. But first they must get past her jealous guardian, Doctor Bartolo and his friend, Rosina’s malleable music teacher, Don Basilio. A series of disguises, misinterpreted letters and hazardous capers maintain the dramatic tension to the end until Bartolo, exhausted and defeated, gives his blessing to the young couple’s betrothal.
The historic Baths of Caracalla (Terme di Caracalla) in Rome provide the venue for this production of The Barber of Seville, part of the summer programme of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma; a fascinating setting for what many consider to be the greatest comic opera of all time.
One of the most intriguing segments in The Barber of Seville is Rosina’s singing lesson in Act Two where Almaviva stands in for the duped Basilio. The melodies at this point are not Rossini’s, lost forever from the score, leaving each production of The Barber of Seville to substitute their own choice of music. One imagines that Rossini, with his own magpie approach to composition, would not have disapproved.