Baltimore Chamber Orchestra

Anne Harrigan, conductor, 10-15-1989

Notes by Dennis Bartel


b. Pesaro, Italy, 29 February 1792
d. Passy, France, 13 November 1868


Rossini, who in his time was both cherished and scorned for his love of fun, wrote this opera buffa for the end of Carnival in Rome. He was fiercely competitive in a bluntly commercial market (“Give me a laundry list and I will set it to music”). Pressed against the deadline, Rossini was forced to borrow from other operas of his own in order to finish this treatment of Beaumarchais’s comedy, featuring the incomparable Figaro. The overture was lifted from his opera seria Aureliano in Palmira, written three years before. Yet it sets the stage perfectly for this story of ridicule and bungling courtship. The infectious mirth begins at once. A slow introduction brings us an urbane tune amongst the violins. The main these is saucy as the lips of the lovely Rosina. Watch out for an arrogant melody in the winds! All of it rises, mid-way, to a famous Rossini crescendo. Formally the overture is a sonata movement sans development sections, built of a simple harmonic structure, with a spare texture and exquisite balance.

Thus the first scene begins on a street in Seville, where Count Almaviva is serenading the object of his dearest affections. Il Barbiere di Siviglia was perhaps Rossini’s greatest masterpiece; it made the 24-year-old composer hysterically famous throughout Europe. Beethoven, welcoming Rossini as a visitor, remarked, “It will be played as long as Italian operas exist.”