Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville)

Melodramma buffo in due atti (Melodramatic comedy in two acts)

A synopsis based on Keith Anderson's translation of Paolo Fabbri's notes and OperaGlass's libretto

Composed by Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)
First performed in Rome, Argentine Theater, 20 February 1816


  • BARTOLO, doctor in medicine, and the tutor and guardian of Rosina - basso comico
  • ROSINA, a ward in the house of Bartolo - contralto
  • FIGARO, a barber - baritone
  • BASILIO, Rosina's music-master - basso ipocritica
  • FIORELLO servant to Almaviva - tenor
  • AMBROGIO, servant to Bartolo - tenor
  • BERTA, old maid of Bartolo - soprano
  • an OFFICIAL - basso
  • CHORUSES and APPEARANCES: a alcade or magistrate - a notary public - drunken soldiers - a small ensemble of brass instruments

The scene is set in Sevilla.

Typical of traditional Italian opera, Il Barbiere di Siviglia begins with a sinfonia in three parts, first an andante introduction in E major whose theme lies in the first violins. An exposition to the sinfonia at allegro in E minor begins; its theme should be readily recognized by even opera non-patrons as it is frequently used in movie scores. The subject is played initially twice by the violins, with the woodwinds and finally the entire orchestra joining as the key shifts to G major and enters a development. The theme then returns to a brief E minor linking passage (a variation on the exposition), then moves to the third section - an E major crescendoing duet between the flutes and violins ending on a triumphant chord series played by the entire orchestra.

Atto Primo

In a traditional two-act melodrama, the first act establishes the characters, their roles and inter-character conflicts. Accordingly, it's much longer than the second act. In many modern performances, many of the first act's recitatives are removed since it is assumed that the audience is familiar with the characters and are present at the performance for the singers and the orchestra.

("Piano pianissmo")
("Ecco ridente in cielo")
("Ehi, Fiorello? Mio Signore")
("Mille grazie, mio signore")
The curtain rises on the scene (a square in Seville at daybreak, with the house of Don Bartolo facing the square in the original production). Fiorello has arranged for musicians to assist Count Almaviva with wooing a girl in the house of Don Bartolo whom he met in Madrid. After an unsuccessful attempt at courtship, Count Almaviva has followed the girl (whom he assumes is Don Bartolo's daughter) to Seville. Bursting into song, accompanied by the musicians, he is unsuccessful in awakening the girl. Disappointed, he dismisses the musicians and instructs Fiorello to pay the musicians. Their raucous appreciation of Count Almaviva's generous payment makes the Count afraid they will awaken the entire neighborhood, and so he quickly dismisses them.

("Gente indescreta")
Count Almaviva, disappointedly sends Fiorello away shortly thereafter, but remains himself, hopeful to catch a glimpse of the girl on the balcony of the house and even perhaps gain an opportunity to speak with her. Instead, he hears singing in the distance.

("La ran la lera")
The singing is Figaro, on his way to his occupation of barbering. His cavatina's theme is made famous by its line "Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!" and brags of his many activities.

("Ah, ah! che bella vita")
Figaro continues to sing his praises in a second song, causing the Count to approach Figaro believing that he recognizes the singer. He is correct, and Figaro recognizes the Count as well, bowing and causing the Count to stop him- Count Almaviva is in Seville incognito to pursue the girl whom he believes is Don Bartolo's daughter. Figaro, however knows better. Figaro is in service to Don Bartolo, and tells Count Almaviva that the girl is not Don Bartolo's daughter, but rather his ward.

At this point the girl, whom Figaro identifies as Rosina, appears on the balcony waiting for her lover with a note. The Count steps forward just as Don Bartolo's gravelly voice is heard from the house, questioning the reason for the note. Rosina lies, saying that it is the lyrics to a popular aria from the opera Inutil Precauzione and she "accidentally" drops it to the street below. Don Bartolo rushes downstairs to find the note, Rosina motions for the Count to take it. Narrowly escaping with the note infuriates Don Bartolo, prompting him to send Rosina back to the house chased by further threats of harsher treatment.

("Povera disgraziata")
Count Almaviva takes pity upon Rosina while reading her note upon the insistence of Figaro. The note contains a request that the Count reveals his identity and whether he is truly interested in romantic liaisons. If so, she is inclined to leave the house to escape her current conditions. Figaro explains that Don Bartolo is a miser intending to marry Rosina to take her wealth. At this point, Don Bartolo exits the house announcing his plan for the wedding to be that evening. The Count is urged to come forward to Rosina in light of the situation.

("Se il mio nome saper voi bramate")
The Count answers Rosina later that day: his name is Lindoro, and he is not rich but is enamored with Rosina. His true intent is to see if Rosina loves him in return or whether she is interested in his money. Just as Rosina is about to reply, she is forced to withdraw from the window.

("Oh cielo!")
Count Almaviva becomes frustrated with Rosina's disappearances and asks Figaro to help him gain Rosina's hand in marriage. Drawing upon his wealth, he promises Figaro wealth for assistance.

("All'idea di quel metallo")
("Numero quindici, a mano manca")
("Ev-viva il mio Padrone!")
Figaro is intrigued by the combination of his two loves in life- scheming and money. He soon concocts a plan: Count Almaviva will act as an officer of an arriving regiment with orders to report to Don Bartolo. At the same time, he will act drunk, hopefully dodging the suspicions of the cranky don. Figaro leaves Count Almaviva, giving him the address of his barbershop in case he needs assistance. Meanwhile, Fiorello has grown impatient awaiting his master for more than two hours and begins to complain about his lot in life as the curtain falls.

("Una voce poco fa- lo sono docile, son rispettosa")
("Sì, sì, la vincerò")
("Oh buon dì, signorina!")
("Ah, disgraziato Figaro!")
("Ah! Barbiere d'inferno...")
("La calunnia è un venticello")
The curtain rises showing Rosina's room inside Don Bartolo's house, the passage to the hallway and a small private room such as a study. Rosina is inside her room composing a spirited love letter to Lindoro, which she dictates in a cavatina. Unsure of how to get the letter to Lindoro, she is surprised by Figaro. Figaro is cognizant of the opportunity to aid Count Almaviva and tells her he can deliver the letter to Lindoro. Suddenly Don Bartolo's voice can be heard outside the room, and Figaro is forced to hide. Although he is unaware that Figaro is in the room listening, he knows that Figaro is up to no good in his house- Don Bartolo notes that Figaro has given Berta sneezing powder and Ambrogio sleeping pills. Don Basilio joins and interrupts Don Bartolo and informs him that Count Almaviva has arrived in Seville. Knowing that the Count is his competition for the hand of Rosina, he accelerates plans for his wedding in the back of his mind. Don Basilio assists, spreads unflattering rumors and slander about the Count.

("Ah! che ne dite?")
("Ma bravi! ma benone!")
("Dunque io son... tu non m'inganni")
("A un dottor della mia sorte - Signorina, un'altra volta")
("Brontola quanto vuoi")
("Finora in questa camera")
Don Basilio and Don Bartolo exit to the private room and begin to draw up a marriage contract to force upon Rosina. Of course, Figaro is spying the whole time. When he realizes what is transpiring, he sneaks out and reports to Rosina. She fakes surprise, but the reality is that she had already surmised Don Bartolo's plot, and has already written the letter to Lindoro that Figaro seeks. Figaro takes the message and leaves for Count Almaviva, realizing he has nothing to tell Rosina. Meanwhile, as Figaro exits, Don Bartolo suddenly enters, suspecting that while he was out, Rosina was actually writing a letter to Count Almaviva. He explains that he wasn't born yesterday and that if she doesn't come forward with the note for Count Almaviva, he will lock her in her room. Rosina isn't intimidated, though; she complains about her lack of privacy through Berta. Berta is interrupted by the sound of a knock at the door.

("Ehi di casa, buona gente")
("Alto là! Che cosa accadde!")
("Fermi tutti, niun si muova")
("Freddo ed immobile")
("Ma signor")
("Mi par d'esser con la testa")
The Count is at the door, disguised as a drunken officer demanding his lodging at Don Bartolo's house; Don Bartolo attempts to refuse the same. In the middle of their argument, Rosina enters and immediately recognizes Count Almaviva as Lindoro, but not as his true identity. Taking advantage of the situation, he attempts to pass her a note. Growing weary of the argument and suspicious that things are not as they seem, Don Bartolo catches the note in transfer and demands that Rosina give the note to him. Quickly thinking, Rosina substitutes a laundry-list from her pocket. Upset over the mistake he believes he made, Rosina pounces and complains over Don Bartolo's continued suspicions. At this point, Figaro arrives explaining that half of the city's population is in the square outside over the clamor in the house. The argument continues between Don Bartolo and the "drunken officer" Almaviva, interrupted by the police crashing through the door. The police don't get far however, as everyone present tells their side of the story (none of which are completely true). Nonetheless, the police become convinced that the Count is an intruder and are about to arrest him when he comes forward to the police with his true identity. Rather than being taken to prison, he gains the respect of all present. Don Bartolo, however, his frightened and doesn't know what to do or say because his wedding plans are beginning to unravel. The result of the confrontation is general confusion, and the audience is left to the operatic equivalent of "to be continued" as the curtain falls upon the first act.

Atto Secondo

The second act is a resolution of the love triangle between Almaviva, Bartolo, and Rosina. It's much shorter in terms of the amount of music and plot advancement. In most performances, it's only two-thirds as long as the first act.

("Ma vedi il mio destino!")
("Pace e gioia sia con voi")
("Venite, signorina")
The curtain raises again, with the scene a room in Don Bartolo's house. The Don is curious regarding the intrusion earlier in the day; he suspects that the "regimental officer" is actually a representative of Count Almaviva. There is a noise at the door, to which Don Bartolo responds. It is the Count, this time dressed as a music master named Don Alonso, politely greeting Don Bartolo and explaining that he has arrived to replace the ill Don Basilio in the evening's music lessons. Don Bartolo leaves to return with Rosina for the lesson.

("Contro un cor che accende amore- Cara immagine ridente")
("Ah Lindoro, mio tesoro")
("Bella voce! Bravissima!")
("Quando mi sei vicina")
("Bravo signore barbiere")
As soon as Rosina enters for her lesson though, she immediately recognizes Lindoro. Taking advantage of the situation, she sings in sotto voce during a rondo her feelings of love. The Count praises Rosina, but Don Bartolo is unimpressed by these newfangled arias and demands something from his generation, giving as example an arietta from his generation. Figaro interrupts Don Bartolo by entering and imitating the don. Don Bartolo tries to refuse to be shaved, but the insistent Figaro wins out. Don Bartolo hands him the keys to fetch the house towels, but Figaro surreptitiously removes the key for Rosina's balcony.

("Don Basilio! Cosa veggo?"
("Buona sera, mio signore")
("Orsù, signor Don Bartolo")
("Stringi, bravissimo")
("Bricconi, birbanti")
("Ah! disgraziato me!")
("Il vecchiotto cerca moglie")
Just as Figaro exits, Don Basilio enters, surprising and embarrassing "Don Alonso", who pays the music-master off to quietly leave before Don Bartolo notices. Figaro returns with Don Bartolo moments after Don Basilio exits and begins the latter's shave. While they are occupied, Lindoro whispers to Rosina his intention to come at night and take her away to elope. Don Bartolo overhears their plan, however and expresses his anger and disapproval against the three conspirators. After the three leave, Don Bartolo reflects on the performance and calls for Don Basilio. Meanwhile, Berta complains about the love triangle in the house. She sings an aria noting that "he who wants a wife, she who wants a husband, all of them are mad". Poor Berta herself wouldn't mind a husband, but she is resigned to being an old maid, and no-one wants her anymore.

("Dunque voi Don Alonso")
("Per forza o per amore")
Suddenly, it's all clear to Don Basilio- not only is Don Alonso a fake, but Don Alonso, the drunken officer, and Lindoro are all one in the same: Count Almaviva in person. Don Bartolo decides that there is no time to spare and summons the notary. Then he decides that he must break any plans that Count Almaviva had unraveled behind his back. Taking advantage of the fact that Rosina doesn't know that Lindoro and Almaviva are the same person, he tricks her into believing that Figaro is tricking her on behalf of Almaviva. Rosina is furious and explains the plot for fleeing the house that evening. With enough evidence to charge Almaviva, Don Bartolo summons the police to arrest Figaro and Count Almaviva as theives.

("Alfine eccoci qua")
("Ah qual colpo inaspettato")
("Zitti, zitti, piano piano")
("Ah, disgraziati noi! come sì fa?")
Outside the house, a storm rages as Figaro and the Count climb the ladder to Rosina's balcony. After using the key that Figaro stole, they are greeted inside by an angry Rosina. At this point, "Lindoro" reveals that he is Count Almaviva, which surprises Rosina who suddenly forgives him. Count Almaviva is ecstatic that Rosina shares his feelings of love despite his hidden identity. Figaro realizes that he has won the reward from Almaviva, so he urges the lovers to leave before they are discovered since he hears steps outside the door to the room. He urges them to use the ladder on the balcony, but when the three arrive on the balcony, they realize that the ladder is gone.

("Il Conte! ah, che mai sento!")
("Cessa di più resistere - E Tu infelice vittima - Ah il più lieto, il più felice")
("Insomma io ho tutti i torti!")
("Di si felie innesto")
It is Don Basilio and the notary Figaro heard outside the door, and the two enter the room. Realizing that the two don't know who summoned them to the house, Figaro and the Count force Don Basilio to draw up the wedding contract and the notary to witness it. By the time Don Bartolo arrives with the police, it's too late. Amazed at how fast everything transpired and confronted with Count Almaviva, Don Bartolo is disappointed. Almaviva invites Don Bartolo to accept the situation, respect the marriage, and allow Rosina to finally be happy. Don Bartolo regretfully agrees and resigns himself to forgive the newlyweds. At the invitation of Figaro, everyone rejoices in a finale as the curtain drops.

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