“On this day in 1815, Gioacchino Rossini was commissioned to compose an opera that would have to be written, casted, and ready for the stage in two months. Despite the timeframe and a number of setbacks, Rossini composed one of opera’s greatest comedic masterpieces, Il Barbiere di Siviglia or The Barber of Seville. It continues to be performed regularly in major opera houses across the world today and its overture is one of opera’s most beloved.
Rossini was born in 1792 into a family of musicians in Pesaro, Italy. His father was a horn player and teacher at Bologna’s Accademia Filarmonica and his mother was a soprano. By the age of twenty Rossini began composing. The Barber of Seville is considered by many to be his masterpiece. Indeed, Beethoven himself is said to have told Rossini that it would be “”played as long as Italian opera exists””–and thus far this has proved correct.
Rossini’s contract to write the opera that would become The Barber of Seville was drawn up on behalf of the great impresario and owner of Naples’s Teatro Argentina, Duke Francesco Sforza-Cesarini. Rossini was to deliver a first act by 20 January 1816 and according to the contract, by 20 January rehearsals would have to be carried out “”perfectly.”” Although a month seems an incredibly short period to compose an opera, not to mention perfecting rehearsals, Rossini was up for the task. He was an astonishingly prolific composer, producing multiple operas year after year for close to two decades. In 1816 alone he would write two additional operas after completing The Barber of Seville. The following year, in 1817, he would go on to produce four. The o
pera’s plot was based on the first part of Pierre Beaumarchais’s Figaro plays which had also inspired Mozart’s 1786 opera, Le Nozze di Figaro or The Marriage of Figaro. A difficulty was that Giovanni Paisiello had already composed a popular opera based on Beaumarchais’s same play only four years previously. Rossini, not wanting to offend the older composer, wrote to him explaining his situation and in return Paisiello gracefully wished Rossini well. On 6 February 1816, Rossini delivered the first act to Sforza-Cesarini. The next day, as fate would have it, the Duke died of a stroke–never to see his commission performed.
Rossini rushed through the second act and borrowed considerably–including the overture–from his previous works. The opera premiered on 20 February at Teatro Argentina under the title Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione or Almaviva, or the Futile Precaution. It was not well received as many of Paisiello’s loyal followers were in the audience and they vocally expressed their disdain. However, by the second performance–which Rossini was said to have missed due to a feigned illness–the opera was a huge success. Not longer after Paisiello’s death later that year, the opera would be re-titled as The Barber of Seville.
With its comedy and joyous music The Barber of Seville is particularly accessible, and as such is often suggested to people newly interested in opera. According to some statistics, Rossini’s masterpiece is one of the top ten most frequently preformed operas in the world.”
Credit: © Mary Evans Picture Library / Alamy
Caption: A poster depicting scenes from “Il Barbieri di Siviglia,” with a portrait of Gioacchino Rossini.