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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 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 frenetic, busy and chaotic in the best way. I especially love this version with Marilyn Horne, Leo Nucci, Paolo Barbacini, Enzo Dara, and Samuel Ramey. It’s not widely available, so I am including a link to listen on Spotify, as well as another popular version. This ensemble is incredibly difficult to sing and some nail it and others don’t! 🤷🏻♀️ But I think it’s important to keep in mind that six voices are piling on top of each other here. Rossini was indeed a master at matching words and music.
🎧 Listen here (5 minute listen):
LONG STORY SHORT
The Barber of Seville brings us another 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, intents to marry her. However, with the help of Figaro (baritone), in the end, young love wins! 👩❤️👨
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. 😕
Still interested? Want more?
You will notice that there is a theme when it comes to Rossini’s Act I finales. Check out the Act I finale from La Cenerentola (Cinderella) here. And if you missed it, check out post from last week covering La Cenerentola.
It has been said that Rossini completed The Barber of Seville in just 12 days! 😳
The Barber of Seville has been featured in movies, TV shows, and cartoons for decades. The most well-known example is the Looney Tunes classic “Rabbit of Seville.”
Thanks for listening, and see you next week,
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The Teatro Argentina got my attention in Rome. I would walk by many times when I was directing THE GIGLI CONCERT at Teatro Trianon. Did not know that The Barber of Seville premiered there. Teatro Argentina is a striking beautiful building even 200 years later but most Opera's are now done at the Rome Opera House.
During the past couple of years, new architect friends taught me to look differently at "built environments", i.e., human-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity. This is why The Teatro Argentina piqued my interest. It was commissioned by the Sforza-Cesarini family, designed by the architect Gerolamo Theodoli, constructed in 1731, and commissioned in 1732. The interior has a "traditional horseshoe-shape", 6 levels of boxes, great acoustics, and seats 696. (Source: Wikipedia) As for Gioachino Rossini's rousing chorus from "The Barber of Seville", how not to love such joyful music? I confess, though, that I enjoyed even more "The Rabbit of Seville". You can always win me over with Looney Tunes, especially when Bugs Bunny stars.