August 2012

Overture to Il barbiere di Siviglia ("The Barber of Seville")

by Gioachino Antonio Rossini

We talked about Rossini last year. He's an Italian composer who lived in the early 1800s.

We also talked about Figaro back two years ago. As a quick refresher, there was a play written in 1772 called The Barber of Seville. "Seville" would refer to Seville, Spain. "The Barber" is a character named Figaro.

Rossini wanted to write the play as an opera (a production in which all of the lines are sung to music, while acting out the parts). At least two other composers attempted to do the same thing before Rossini, but their work has long since been forgotten. Rossini wrote his opera in 1816 (Rossini would have been 24 at the time). The full title was "The Barber of Seville, or The Futile Precaution". It stands as one of the great comedic operas of all time.

The opera involves a Count (Almaviva) who is to marry Rosina, the daughter of Dr. Bartolo. Almaviva is concerned that Rosina love him, not his money, so he seeks the advice of Figaro, the barber (who used to be a servant of the Count). Figaro advises the Count to disguise himself as a drunken soldier, named Lindoro. A wide range of misunderstandings and hilarity ensues. Figaro proves to be a very clever and quick-witted character.

As we've discussed before, an "overture" is a piece of music that is played at the very beginning of a musical or opera (or sometimes even a film). It often includes excerpts of longer pieces that will be heard throughout the production.

Jon's Introduction to This Piece:

Like most people from my generation, I was introduced to this overture by Chuck Jones. In 1949, Warner Bros. produced a cartood written by Michael Maltese and directed by Chuck Jones called "Rabbit of Seville". Elmer Fudd has chased Bugs Bunny into an outdoor theater that is about to do a production of "The Barber of Seville". Bugs hides in the stage, lifts the curtain, and pursues to perform various comedy acts on Elmer to the underscore of the orchestra. This cartoon takes you, almost note for note, through the entire overture. In some circles, this is considered one of the greatest cartoons of all time.

I'm not sure how old I would have been when I first saw it, but I would have been very young, and I'm certain it would have been some Saturday morning, while watching "The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show."

In my teens, I would see a stage production of "The Barber of Seville". I remember smiling to notice how close to the overture "Rabbit of Seville" was. I'd later come across a cassette recording of the overture while I was on my mission, and I've made sure to keep a recording in my collection ever since.


So here is the Overture to "The Barber of Seville". See if you don't hear a familiar theme here and there. Enjoy!

Overture to "The Barber of Seville" by Gioachino Antonio Rossini (7:16)

For those interested, this recording was performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Sargent. It was part of a recording from 1961 during the last night of the Proms.

Jon's Interpretation:

This is a very lively overture. I think my favorite part is the droning quarter notes (in the cartoon, the theme that plays when Bugs is acting as the barber). It's a very memorable theme that can stick in your head for a while.

I doubt I will ever be able to disassociate this piece from the Warner Bros. cartoon, but I'm okay with that. It's still brilliant.

Extra Credit:

Here's the conductor's score:

Conductor's Score for the Overture to "The Barber of Seville" by Gioachino Antonio Rossini

And I could hardly escape with my life without finally presenting the masterpiece. Here is the Chuck Jones cartoon "Rabbit of Seville". There are several moments to enjoy where the action corresponds perfectly with the music, but you should pay very close attention to a scene near the end in which grass is growing on Elmer's head in time with the music to eventually blossom into flowers (perfectly coordinated with a glockenspiel in the orchestra). Enjoy!