Rossini and Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Gioachino Rossini, like many great composers, was born in the right place at the right time. The musical firmament was still mourning the loss of Wolfgang Mozart in 1792 when Rossini was born. His parents were both gifted musicians, and young Gioachino was in a music conservatory by the age of 14. Rossini composed ten operas within the following seven years and had established himself as a gifted composer in the opera buffa style. This genre of comic opera was strikingly different from the rigorous opera seria, but it still managed to acquire some noticeable traits. Primarily, the arias in opera buffe shirk the da capo style of the seria mold. The subject matter deals frequently with common people in every day situations, instead of the mythological gods of seria. Arias often incorporate patter singing, which contrasts strongly with melismatic seria vocal melodies. The buffa style originated in Naples in the early 18th century and spread north through Rome and Bologna. Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro are considered two paradigmatic examples of this style. Rossini was influenced heavily by Mozart’s work, to the extent that he referred to the Viennese composer as “The admiration of my youth, the desperation of my mature years, the consolation of my old age”.
Il Barbiere di Siviglia was initially the title of a 1782 opera by Giovanni Paisiello. The librettist of Rossini’s Barbiere based his text on Paisillo’s work, but changed the title to Almaviva, in deference to the original composer. The opening night for Rossini’s 1816 opera has earned a degree of notoriety. The event was nearly a week before Rossini’s 34th birthday, and was reportedly a total fiasco. A stray cat wandered across the stage, the crowd jeered and booed, and the actor playing Basilio tripped on a trap door and bloodied his nose. Rossini snuck out of the Teatro Argentina and went home, retiring for the evening without so much as a word to anyone. The following evening, however, was a stark contrast. The composer did not attend the performance, but he heard a crowd with torches in the street following the show. He fully expected an angry mob, but was greeted by an adulatory audience shouting “Bravo!” Almaviva became immensely popular, and the title was eventually changed to Il Barbiere di Siviglia. This alteration established Rossini’s work as the ultimate expression of the story, and the work is now considered widely as one of the greatest comic operas ever written.
An aria from Barbiere that incorporates many of the typical buffa elements is 'La calunnia é un venticello' from the first act. Often called the 'Calumny aria', La calunnia is the first aria sung by the unscrupulous music teacher, Don Basilio. He sings to Bartolo about defaming Almaviva through calumny, malicious lies. The aria opens slowly, softly in D major as Basilio describes his slander as a gentle...