The Barber of Seville October, 2008

Welcome to Barber Clips, a collection of  information  on The Barber of Seville, composer Rossini, and video clips of famous artists singing Barber songs, ranging from Maria Callas to Bugs Bunny.

Below is are brief comments on Barber and Rossini.   LVO hopes you enjoy this opportunity to easily explore the history and music of this famous opera. Most of the source material for this page comes from Wikipedia.

The Barber of Seville

Written by Gioachino Rossini in 1816. The opera has been popular for almost 200 years, ranking as the 5th most performed opera in the U.S. Amazingly, it is said to have been written in only three weeks, although the famous overture was borrowed from another composition.  The singing style is Bel Canto, a difficult style that requires the ability to sing evenly throughout a wide register, and to sing fast scales with rapid pronunciation. (More on Bel Canto below). The result is technically difficult arias that are both pleasing and inspiring. Besides the music, this opera has remained popular because of the lively and humorous story.  Successful singers in Barber must be skilled actors as well as singers. For a  detailed description of the plot, click on the following link:  (Click for more on Barber of Seville)

Composer Gioachino Rossini

Rossini (1792-1868)  was an Italian composer, and was the most famous composer of operas in his time. His operas contained new ideas. Italian operas had become rather unimaginative, with composers such as Cimarosa and Paisiello writing the same sort of thing each time. Rossini made his operas interesting by writing skillfully for talented singers, giving them good tunes, as well as giving the orchestra interesting music, and by choosing a variety of stories for his operas. The opera for which he is best known today is the Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville). Many of the overtures to his operas are played at orchestral concerts. The most popular is the overture to his opera Guillaume Tell (William Tell) with its famous galloping tune (often referred to as in America as the Lone Ranger theme).

During the last 40 years of his life Rossini wrote no more music. His friends begged him to write another opera but he always refused.  Historians speculate that Rossini saw the shift in opera music to the Romantic era, away from the Italian Bel Canto style he helped popularize, and that he was unable or unwilling to change with the times.  A wealthy man from his many hit compositions,  he retired at age 37.  Rossini made his home in Bologna and later Paris, where he died in 1868, and his funeral attended by thousands.  (Click for more Information)

Bel Canto

(Bel-Canto) (Italian, “beautiful singing”), an Italian musical term, refers to the art and science of vocal technique which originated in Italy during the late seventeenth century and reached its pinnacle in the early part of the nineteenth century during the Bel Canto opera era. Rossini (1792-1868), Bellini (1801-1835), and Donizetti (1797-1848) best exemplify this style,  which flourished from approximately 1805 to 1830. Bel canto singing characteristically focuses on perfect evenness throughout the voice, skillful legato, a light upper register, tremendous agility and flexibility, and a certain lyric, “sweet” timbre. Operas of the style feature extensive and florid ornamentation, requiring much in the way of fast scales and cadenzas. (Click for more information)

Barber Clips

The following links lead to YouTube clips of famous singers doing arias from The Barber of Seville.  Just for fun, we begin with two of the most famous, Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker.  Then we move to the most famous male aria, Largo al Factorum. Then there is a section of the most famous Bel Canto female aria, Una voce poca fa.

Overture to The Barber of Seville Overture The overture to one of opera’s greatest classics. Some of you may remember may remember hearing a shorter version in a Bugs Bunny cartoon Rabbit of Seville.

LVO Comment: This is the music without the Rabbit.  Nice view of the orchestra. YouTube did not name the orchestra.  Note YouTube cannot mention The overature without referring to Bugs Bunny!


LVO Comment: METROPOLITAN OPERA, 1991. JAMES LEVINE CONDUCTING. Set at a beautiful Gala in New York.

Herman Prey Hermann Prey as Figaro sings aria “Largo al factotum” from Il barbiere di Siviglia by Gioacchino Rossini. Conductor: Claudio Abbado. Director: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. This version has very interesting views of the set, inside Figaro’s barber shop, his acting, and the videography.
Liao Chang-rong Liao Chang-rong (baritone) Wang Rong-ji conducts Shanghai Broadcast Symphony Orchestra. Interesting views of the Shanghai orchestra in the background
Maria Callas Paris 1958. The one and only Maria Callas effortlessly sings Rosina’s aria. The audience can barely contain themselves.

LVO comment:  Bear with the recording quality: This kind of recording was pretty new in 1958! Maria Callas is a Golden Standard.  She is said to have brought major change to modern opera by insisting that singers act emotionally and convincingly. Note how much Maria puts into this just through her facial expressions and body movement.  Note also how she takes advantage of cadenza opportunities.  That is, when the orchestra is not playing and she is singing alone, she elaborates on the music.  This improvisation is less common now than in previous years.

Cecelia Bartoli Una voce poco fa” from Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini performed by Cecilia Bartoli

LVO comment:  This production was in a small German theater in 1988.  Cecelia does a wonderful performance and seems to have carved out her own style of singing this kind of music.

Frederica von Stade Una voce poco fa is one of Rossini’s most memorable pieces and for good reason. It showcases more than just singing but the character of Rosina.
LVO Comment: A fine quality recording of a lovely lady doing an excellent performance.  Recorded in 1989. Interesting set.
Frederica von Stade lives in the Bay Area.
Marilyn Horne Marilyn Horne, Festival di Macerata, 1980

LVO comment:  Another Golden Standard who seems to handle this difficulty aria effortlessly.  Marilyn produces original cadenzas like Maria Callas. This recording is also unfortunately technically challenged.

Listen to the enthusiastic crowd!