Gioachino Rossini composed more than 40 operas during his lifetime, but today he is best known for just one. The timeless comedy of The Barber of Seville, based on a play by the French writer Beaumarchais, survived its disastrous premiere to become Rossini’s most popular opera, both during the composer’s lifetime and in the years since his death (Beaumarchais also wrote the play from which Mozart derived his opera, The Marriage of Figaro). Many concertgoers will also recognize Rossini’s overture from the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, The Rabbit of Seville.
In the early 19th century, opera overtures bore little musical relationship to the operas themselves. The overture served as a musical signal for the audience that the evening’s entertainment was about to begin; its musical content might suggest some of the emotional range of the opera, but did not include any actual themes. Rossini, like Mozart before him, usually left the overture until the last minute. In the case of The Barber of Seville, Rossini ran out of time before the opera’s scheduled premiere, so he borrowed the overture from his opera seria, Aureliano in Palmira, which had premiered two years earlier. In 1815, a year before the premiere of The Barber of Seville, Rossini once again recycled it, this time as the overture to his historical opera Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra (Elizabeth, Queen of England). As James Keller points out, “the fact that essentially the same piece could serve to introduce an opera seria, an opera buffa, and a historical tragic opera speaks to the adaptability of Rossini’s basic style to a variety of dramatic situations.”
- Composer: born February 29, 1792, Pesaro, Italy; died November 13, 1868, Passy, France
- Work composed: This overture was originally written for Rossini’s 1813 opera Aureliano in Palmira; three years later, Rossini recycled it for Il barbiere di Siviglia.
- World premiere: Il barbiere di Siviglia was first performed on February 20, 1816, at the Teatro Argento in Rome.
- Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, and strings
- Estimated duration: 8 minutes
© 2021 Elizabeth Schwartz