Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) is one of the greatest and most enduring comic operas of all time, which even Beethoven, who was not a great fan of Italian opera, enjoyed. “Give us more Barbers!” (Mordden 31) he told Rossini when the Italian composer visited Beethoven in Vienna.
Rossini was a prolific composer who wrote with astounding speed. By the age of 20 he already enjoyed celebrity status and had created six successful operas. Starting as a child, Rossini had music lessons from private tutors and ended his studies at the conservatory at Bologna. However, most believe his biggest influence came from years of scoring symphonies and quartets of Mozart and Haydn. Even as a teenager he was such a devoted follower of Mozart that his nickname was “il Tedeschino” or “the little German.” Clearly Rossini was familiar with Mozart’s opera, “The Marriage of Figaro” based on the second of the trilogy by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799) that was composed 30 years before Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia”. Rossini was determined to use Beaumarchais’ first play which was already familiar to opera goers in the early 19th century, since the well established composer Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816) had already composed an opera based on it. Rossini changed the title to “Almaviva “ and while Paisiello’s opera enjoyed wide popularity in its time, it rapidly went out of sight by Rossini’s opera.
Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” was considered the purest “opera buffa” of all time. Like Mozart, Rossini shows his genius in his ability to unite the comic and the serious in a single opera, the exact opposition to the common Italian opera tradition of that period. He encouraged humorous stage gestures throughout his works but for Rossini the true comedy must come from the music itself. For example his overture starts with a minor chord...