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Podcast: Il barbiere di Siviliga

In this episode of our podcast we explore Rossini's opera, Il barbiere di Siviliga

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia – a comedy of class and manners with a dark heart and some of the greatest operatic earworms ever written.

In this episode of the Glyndebourne podcast, experts including Stephen Wadsworth, Director of Opera Studies at The Juilliard School, international soprano Danielle de Niese and Francesco Izzo, Head of Music at the University of Southampton discuss the work.

Listen in full, or read the blog below.

Music from the EMI Classics recording of Il barbiere di Siviglia featuring Vittorio Gui conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Victoria de los Angeles as Rosina and Sesto Bruscantini as Figaro.

Adapting Beaumarchais

Il barbiere di Siviglia premiered in 1816 in Rome. It’s an adaptation of the first part of the very popular Figaro trilogy of plays by the French writer Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais, written and performed between 1775 and 1792, just before and during the French Revolution.

Beaumarchais’ trilogy belongs to a more politically charged era than Rossini’s operatic version, says Stephen Wadsworth, Director of Opera Studies at The Juilliard School.

‘The prerogative of the aristocracy is quite vividly shown in the Count – he comes in and expects everything to be done for him.’

‘What’s fascinating, and huge, about the play is that, at that time, for an aristocrat to lean on a servant class person – Figaro – who in fact he realises is more enlightened and educated than he is, to solve every problem that he has, that was extraordinary.’

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Festival 2016. Photo: Bill Cooper.

The second part of the trilogy is The Marriage of Figaroadapted as an opera by Mozart in 1786.

This instalment is more radical still due to its proximity to the French Revolution, and because Beaumarchais became more left-leaning as the trilogy progressed.

‘The former ruler of France and the incumbent and Napoleon, all three of these people considered the Beaumarchais Marriage of Figaro to be actually catalytic in the Revolution – a key step towards revolution.’

The Countess to come

In Il barbiere di Siviglia we get to see the characters of Le nozze di Figaro as they were earlier in their lives.

When we meet Rosina, her romantic, and indeed financial, future seems not to be in her own hands. But is she tougher than she seems?

Internationally-renowned soprano Danielle de Niese, who performed the role in the Festival 2016 production of Il barbiere di Siviglia, thinks so:

‘I think Rosina is both strong and a victim, that’s what makes her so interesting. She is trapped in the world of Bartolo – he has kept her very much under lock and key. But the minute we meet her we see that she’s not somebody to be kept under lock and key, she would love to break free.’

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Festival 2016. Photo: Bill Cooper.

‘The way that she romanticises that break, that way of freedom, is through a love romance with a swaggering, roguish creature who will come and whisk her away from this prison that she lives in.’

In her famous and feisty aria ‘Una voce poca fa’ we get an early glimpse of the formidable countess Rosina will become in the next chapter of Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy.

She tells the audience ‘I’m docile, respectful, obedient, sweet, loving – but if you cross me, I’m a viper!’

Danielle de Niese says: ‘I sang ‘Una voce poca fa’ from the age of maybe eleven and now looking at the piece what’s quite funny about Rosina is that she doesn’t say, ‘I am obedient’ and ‘I am compliant’, she says ‘I can be obedient,’ ‘I can behave the way that people expect me to behave’, but that actually at the core of her is somebody very strong willed.’

When we next meet the youthful, spirited Rosina in The Marriage of Figaro, she’ll have aged a bit and morphed into a rather different character.

‘I wouldn’t want Rosina to be built in Barbiere as a wilting, insecure, sad and wistful person; she hasn’t become that person yet. Barbiere is like the prequel, we’re getting to know these characters before we met them in The Marriage of Figaro and that doesn’t mean that necessarily who we met in Figaro is who they are. Maybe these versions of Rosina and Almaviva is who they are, and the Mozart operas is what they became through life experience.’

Learn more about Il barbiere di Siviglia by listening to the full podcast.

The Glyndebourne podcast features a growing library of episodes that delve into the music and magic of some of the greatest operas ever written – listen to more episodes here.

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