Opera – Barber of Seville
An opera based on the play had previously been composed by Giovanni Paisiello, and another was composed in 1796 by Nicolas Isouard. Though the work of Paisiello triumphed for a time, Rossini’s later version alone has stood the test of time and continues to be a mainstay of operatic repertoire.
Rossini’s opera recounts the first of the plays from the Figaro trilogy, by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, while Mozart’s opera Le nozze di Figaro, composed 30 years earlier in 1786, is based on the second part of the Beaumarchais trilogy. The original Beaumarchais version was first performed in 1775, in Paris at the Comédie-Française at the Tuileries Palace.
Rossini was well known for being remarkably productive, completing an average of two operas per year for 19 years, and in some years writing as many as four. Musicologists believe that, true to form, the music for Il Barbiere di Siviglia was composed in just under three weeks, although some of the themes in the famous overture were actually borrowed from two earlier Rossini operas, Aureliano in Palmira and Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra.
Barbiere’s first performance on February 20, 1816 was a disastrous failure: the audience hissed and jeered throughout, and several on-stage accidents occurred. However, many of the audience were supporters of one of Rossini’s rivals, Giovanni Paisiello, who played on “mob mentality” to provoke the rest of the audience to dislike the opera. Paisiello had already composed The Barber of Seville and took Rossini’s new version to be an affront to his version. In particular, Paisiello and his followers were opposed to the use of basso buffo, which is common in comic opera. The second performance met with quite a different fate, becoming a roaring success. It is curious to note that the original French play of Le Barbier de Séville endured a similar story, hated at first only to become a favorite within a week.