Overture to The Barber of Seville
Gioachino Rossini was the greatest opera composer of his generation. From his first farsa comica written at age eighteen to his crowning work for the stage, William Tell, he dashed off an astounding 39 operas in nineteen years. Then, at the height of his fame and creative powers, Rossini withdrew almost entirely from composing, never writing another opera in his remaining forty years.
Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) takes its characters from the same trilogy by the French playwright Beaumarchais that also inspired Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. In this first installment of the comedic trilogy, the mischievous barber, Figaro, helps the wealthy Count of Almaviva scheme to win over a beautiful girl, Rosina, who is kept cloistered in her guardian’s house.
For the overture, Rossini recycled music that he had used in two previous operas, both tragedies. The opening section, in a mild Andante maestoso tempo, sets the stage with conversational exchanges and a seductive melody over guitar-like plucks. The Allegro vivo body of the Overture introduces an unforgettable E-minor melody, beginning with five quick notes, the last two rising and falling a half-step in a nervous twitter. It is a testament to the universal appeal of Rossini’s themes that the overture, almost entirely intact, served as the foundation of The Rabbit of Seville, a Warner Bros. cartoon from 1950 that introduced opera to new generations of music lovers.