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Opera Daily 🎶 — Playing for the Front of the Jersey (in Opera)
This week's Opera Daily features why opera is a team sport and The Barber of Seville
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There is a misconception that opera is a solo art form.
This could not be further from the truth. Opera is a team sport.
It takes many people working together to make an opera come to life. There are singers, directors, conductors, set and costume designers, lighting technicians, and more.
Aside from the essential players that make it all come to life off stage, some of the most critical points of collaboration and magic happen when the lights go down and the audience takes their seats.
Ravi Gupta, a venture capitalist and former operator, recently wrote this excellent post “Play for the front of the jersey” about startup teams. It got me thinking about how just about everything in life is a team sport. And how being a me-first player in just about anything (including opera) is just a bad strategy.
One of my favorite sayings is “Play for the front of the jersey.”* If you follow sports, you know what this means. The name of the team goes on the front of the jersey, and the name of the individual goes on the back.
In professional sports, playing for the front of the jersey requires sacrifice. It might mean fewer shots or less playing time. It might result in worse individual statistics, and in turn, lower earnings. Professional athletes often have to decide between doing what’s best for the team’s success or their individual success.
*Miracle is a movie about the 1980 US Olympic team. Watch the scene where the coach asks the players who they play for.
Opera is the ultimate team activity, and The Barber of Seville is one of the best examples of how that plays out on the stage.
Today we’re listening to “Ma, Signor”, the finale from Act I of Gioachino Rossini's opera Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville).
The Barber of Seville, which premiered in 1816, at Teatro Argentina in Rome is probably the best example we have of an opera buffa, or comic opera. In contrast to the “serious” style of Italian opera that predominated in Europe from the 1710s to about 1770 that focused on solo arias, opera buffa focused more on the extensive use of ensembles and a new emphasis on the chorus. Rossini teaches us to expect zaniness when it comes to the finales of his comic operas, and this one is frantic, busy, and chaotic in the best way. This ensemble is incredibly difficult to sing and some productions nail it and others don’t! But it’s important to remember that six voices are piling on top of each other here. Rossini was indeed a master at matching words and music.
During this Act I finale, it’s chaos inside Bartolo’s home as Figaro, Count Almaviva, Rosina, Bartolo, Berta, Don Basilio, and the police try to figure out exactly what’s going on. The police are about to arrest Count Almaviva when he quietly signals his true identity to them. This confuses everyone, and no one knows what to make of all of this. 😕
🎧 Listening Example (4 minute listen): “Ma, Signor”, the finale from Act I of Gioachino Rossini's opera Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), The Metropolitan Opera, Joyce DiDonato, Juan Diego Flórez, Peter Mattei, John Del Carlo, John Relyea, Claudia Waite, Maurizio Benini (Conductor), Production: Bartlett Sher (2006), 2006-07 season
The Barber of Seville brings us a familiar plot. The setting is Seville, Spain, in the 18th century. Rosina (mezzo-soprano) loves Count Almaviva (tenor) and wants to marry him—but Dr. Bartolo (bass), her older guardian, who keeps her under lock and key, intends to marry her. However, with the help of Figaro (baritone), in the end, young love wins!
BONUS: I came across this recording of Roberta Peters and Robert Merrill singing the duet “Dunque io son” between Rosina and Figaro from Act 1 of The Barber of Seville, and I couldn’t help but share. It’s from the incredible 1958 RCA Victor recording of the complete opera. Enjoy!
Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to reply with feedback or leave a comment.
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured Frederica von Stade singing the role of Charlotte in the French opera Werther by Jules Massenet.
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