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01 April 2006

The Barber of Seville (1963)

By Gioachino Rossini (1816)

Libretto: Cesare Sterbini, based on the play "Le Barbier de Séville" by Pierre Beaumarchais

Performers: Victoria de los Ángeles (Rosina), Luigi Alva (Il Conte d'Almaviva), and Sesto Bruscantini (Figaro); Vittorio Gui conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, London, 1963

Want to know the plot? Click here.

This is the sort of dreck that could turn a body off from opera completely. Forget about northern Wagnerian women named Olga singing while wearing yellow braids and horned helmets, this is serious, gaudy, tacky Italian opera. Rossini cluttered every syllable with annoying melisma, and the dry, spiritless recitative was accompanied by only the occasional harpsichord. Whereas Beethoven can be forgiven such sparse accompaniment because the orchestration he created for his arias was so profound, Rossini possessed no such gift and deserves no such forgiveness. Everything was about the voice, which must be great if your preference runs toward that style. I, however, was grinding my teeth.

The obvious opera to which I must compare The Barber of Seville is Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Seville was created as the first part of Beaumarchais's Figaro trilogy, with Marriage following as part two. Mozart's opera was written in 1786; Rossini's followed thirty years later. Mozart's opera was wonderful. This was not. Whereas Mozart enlivened Lorenzo da Ponte's very funny libretto with even funnier comic musical timing, thereby succeeding in turning the ridiculous into something wholly amusing, Rossini lost all momentum and humor with a plodding action sequences and dull, pathetic characters.

I struggled to finish this one just so I could write a seriously negative review. My ambition for listening in the first place began with my intention to take the girls to the Overture Center's Children's Arts Fest next Saturday. Selections from this opera will be performed live, but I am not looking forward to the event as much as I did. I will be able to appreciate the technical skill of any singer that manages to give voice to these difficult passages, but I certainly would not sit through an entire performance.

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