The 200th Anniversary of the Premiere of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville
Both Paisiello and Rossini wrote operas based on Beaumarchais’ comedy The Barber of Seville. [From left to right: Paisiello, by Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1791 / Gioachino Rossini, by Vincenzo Camuccini, c. 1815].
Two hundred years ago today, Giaochino Rossini’s opera Il Barbiere di Siviglia was premiered in Rome on February 20, 1816. The performance was reportedly a “stormy one” full of mishaps such as instrument strings breaking, a cast member falling on his nose, and an errant cat walking across the stage (see below). On top of this, hisses erupted from audience members who were friends of Giovanni Paisiello, voicing their displeasure that the upstart Rossini dared write an opera based on the same source as Maestro Paisiello. Luckily for Rossini, the next evening’s performance was a success.
[The Musical Examiner, no. 72 (March 16, 1844): 478]
Almost a hundred years later, the so-called “failure” was explained as follows:
[Musical America, XVIII no. 25 (October 25, 1913): 4]
The opera’s success was such that by 19 September 1821 it was performed in a French version by Castil-Blaze. He was payed for his efforts; Rossini was not. This led to a public outcry and the sculptor Dantan Jeune to depict, in a caricature-statuette, Castil-Blaze riding on Rossini’s back.
[Dantan Jeune, 1833. “XXX” is the manner in which Castil-Blaze, also a music critic, signed some of his articles.]
The U.S. premiere of Il Barbiere di Siviglia took place at The Park Theatre in New York City on November 29, 1825, nine years after the opera’s premiere. It was the first Italian opera performed in a foreign language in New York City, thereby making theatrical history. The celebrated tenor Manuel García who created the role of Almaviva in Rome, repeated it in New York, while his young daughter Maria, sang Rosina, and his wife Joaquina, the role of Berta. The following article announced the event:
[The Harmonicon IV, no. 37 (January 1826): 16] [Manuel García, attributed to Francisco Goya, c. 1810-1815]
Rossini’s opera was so popular, that it regularly spawned the creation of numerous transcriptions wherever it was performed, permitting music lovers to surround themselves at home with Rossini’s well-known melodies. Here are two examples from the contemporary press in London that pass in review two British transcriptions.
[The Quarterly Musical Magazine & Review III, No. 9 (1821):112-113]
[The Harmonicon I, no. 10 (October 1823): 147]
The popularity of The Barber of Seville has of course, continued to grow. Some may even recall the famous Warner Brothers Looney Tunes’ parody of the opera seen in the cartoon short, Rabbit of Seville (1950). For those who don’t, you’re in for a treat…
Finally, here is a 1925 recording of the celebrated baritone Riccardo Stracciari singing an excerpt from “Largo al Factorum,” from The Barber of Seville. We think it’s a “knockout”.
RIPM Search Tip: For more on this opera, including articles in languages other than English, search the Retrospective Index and the RIPM e-Library for Il Barbiere di Siviglia with language expanders turned on.