Are you ready?
We are ready to play!
We are ready to go to the opera to listen to Rossini’s best known work, Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), which premiered in 1816. Rossini had a birthday in 1816 too! Born in a leap year, he enjoyed the idea that he only had a birthday every four years. On his 76th birthday, he invited friends around to celebrate his 18th!
“Give me the laundress’ bill and I will even set that to music,” Gioachino Rossini is reported to have joked about his status as one of the most popular composers during his life time. He wrote a variety of instrumental, chamber and sacred music, but he is best known and loved for his 39 operas, most notably Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola (Cinderella), performed all over the globe every year.
2016 marks Il barbiere di Siviglia’s 200th anniversary. Who would have thought it would survive its disastrous première so robustly?
The 23-year-old Gioachino Rossini completed his masterpiece Il barbiere di Siviglia with incredible speed – legend has it in just 13 days – which Rossini attributed to ‘facility and lots of instinct’. He was given short notice, less than 3 weeks, to write an opera for the close of the Carnival in Rome. This was Il barbiere di Siviglia, based on the play by Pierre Caron, known as Beaumarchais. A clockmaker by training, Beaumarchais was an adventurer and chancer and, at one stage, an arms dealer acting for American revolutionaries; he fortunately survived duels and spells in and out of prison and love, to write the play Le Barbier de Séville, part of a dramatic trilogy (The Barber of Seville; The Marriage of Figaro and The Guilty Mother) that also inspired Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, and to concoct a scheme for supplying Paris with water.
The first night of Rossini’s Barber, 20 February 1816, was a fiasco. The Don Basilio tripped over a trapdoor and had a nosebleed; a cat walked onto the stage, and there was an awkward pause while the tenor tuned his guitar before beginning a serenade! The jeering and booing had been compared with the reception of Tannhäuser in Paris and the first night of Carmen. The second performance was a very different story — the opera was a triumph – and within a few decades of its 1816 premiere, Il barbiere di Siviglia had been seen around the world, reaching opera houses in New York, Buenos Aires, Trinidad and Ecuador. At the end of the century, Verdi wrote “Il barbiere di Siviglia, for the abundance of the musical ideas, for its comic verve and the accuracy of its declamation is the most beautiful opera buffa there is.”
The opera contains some of the most familiar opera music in the world today, and the work is the 7th most performed opera around the world. Although the original overture to the opera was lost and Rossini replaced it with one he’d written for an earlier opera. That’s the famous work we know today, which contains none of the music from the actual opera!
If you’re wondering where you heard that before, maybe in Bugs Bunny? The Rabbit of Seville is a classic Bugs Bunny episode 🙂
As well as possessing a simply stunning overture, the opera is a sheer delight throughout, with hit after hit, including Rosina’s aria ‘Una voce poco fa’ and Figaro’s ‘Largo al factotum’.
Il barbiere di Siviglia has all the right ingredients for comic chaos: an imprisoned young woman, her lecherous guardian and a young noble suitor. Skilfully plotting behind the scenes is Figaro – an irrepressible and inventive character in whom many have seen a resemblance to the young Rossini himself. The score fizzes with musical brilliance, from Figaro’s famous entrance aria ‘Largo al factotum’ to the frenzy of the Act I finale, when the five principal voices all pile on top of each other.
Just the opera for little Isabelle! Tremendous mischief and fun.
This was the fourth revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s 2005 production of Rossini’s great comedy, and apparently one of the best with a terrific performance from a truly virtuoso ensemble cast.
There are two versions of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia commonly performed and the main difference is whether or not the spectacular and phenomenally difficult tenor aria ‘Cessa di più resistere’ is included close to the end of the opera. Even Rossini tended to omit it, possibly because asking an average tenor to attempt it might constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In recent years almost the only man who could be trusted to perform it has been the wonderful Peruvian Juan Diego Florez. Now there is another.
Javier Camarena, the Mexican tenor who has already taken the New York Met by storm earlier this year (he became only the third tenor allowed to perform an encore – the others being Luciano Pavarotti and Juan Diego Floréz), made his Royal Opera debut as Count Almaviva, stopping the show with his second-act aria, ‘Cessa di più resistere’.
He was a fantastic complement to Daniela Mack’s tempestuous Rosina, also making her Royal Opera debut, all dark tone and formidable coloratura, and lush mezzo, showcased beautifully in “Una voce poco fa”.
Another debut came from José Fardilha, who is an old hand at lecherous guardian Bartolo, having played the role in Paris, Stuttgart, Barcelona and Madrid. His rich baritone was clear and fluid and his comic timing was wonderful, especially in his scenes with the inimitable Ferruccio Furlanetto, whose slimeball Don Basilio is about as good as it gets. Vito Priante’s twinkly-eyed, knowing Figaro, had effortless charm and he clearly enjoyed every moment on the stage.
The girls thought it was all tremendous fun!
The Royal Opera House is home to The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. The present building is actually the third Theatre to have been constructed on the site since 1732.
An opera and major performing arts venue based in Covent Garden, the building was initially named the Theatre Royal when constructed in 1732, with the exquisite facade fronting Bow Street. The first theatre was built by John Rich, and was one of the only two theatres in London that were allowed to perform drama, in close competition with the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. At first it was purely a playhouse, until the first ballet performance showcased in 1734, with Handel introducing opera not long after in 1735. Several of his operas and oratorios were first performed there, including Alcina and Semele. In 1808, the building was destroyed by a fire, which also took the lives of 23 firemen, Handel’s own Organ and many of his manuscripts. It was reconstructed by Robert Smirke and opened again in 1809. The building was devastated once more by fire in 1856. E. M. Barry designed a new building that opened in 1858 with new a new addition; a Floral Hall that could doubly be used as a wonderful ballroom (now the Paul Hamlyn Hall).
Eventually, the building was renamed the Royal Opera House in 1892, but come both World Wars, it was used as a furniture repository and a Mecca Dance Hall respectively. Finally reopening again in 1946, the company was now almost inexistent and had to be put together from scratch. Collaborating with the ballet, both companies were awarded Royal Charters: The Royal Ballet in 1956 and The Royal Opera in 1968. Towards the end of the 20th century, the buildings were completely renovated to become the grand structures they are today, and the Floral Hall was transformed into a large public space housing bars and restaurants.
The main auditorium is a Grade I listed building and can seat over 2,200 people. The auditorium was completely restored in the 1990s and looks absolutely fantastic, like walking into a brand new Victorian Theatre. The stalls were re-raked to accommodate the new stage, and the stage itself and fly tower were completely demolished and rebuilt.
One of the most striking features of the decor of the auditorium is the pale blue saucer-shaped dome in the ceiling. The use of the colour blue is a tradition in theatre and reflects the open-air amphitheatres of Classical Greece. In the past, a huge gas-lit chandelier hung from the centre of the dome and remained lit during performances, along with gas-lit candelabras along the tiers.
Honey and Isabelle visited the Crush Room, with its crystal chandeliers said to be made of the original chandelier from the auditorium. Resplendent in reds and golds the Crush room harks back to the 19th century, many of its oil paintings and fittings have been in place since 1858.
The tiny opera lovers left the theatre by the Grand Staircase 🙂
Looks like everybody had fun this evening!