Showing posts with label Barber of Seville. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barber of Seville. Show all posts

9 May 2018

Giovanni Paisiello - composer

Audience favourite with a jealous streak

Giovanni Paisiello was one of the most  popular Italian composers in the 18th century
Giovanni Paisiello was one of the most
popular Italian composers in the 18th century
The composer Giovanni Paisiello, who wrote more than 90 operas and much other music and was enormously popular in the 18th century, was born on this day in 1740 in Taranto.

Paisiello was talented, versatile and had a big influence on other composers of his day and later, yet he was jealous of the success of rivals and is remembered today primarily as the composer whose passionate fans wrecked the premiere of Gioachino Rossini’s opera Almaviva, which was based on the same French play as Paisiello’s Il barbiere di siviglia, which was regarded as his masterpiece.

Rossini’s opera would eventually be more commonly known as Il barbiere di siviglia, but not until after Paisiello had died.

Nonetheless, Paisiello’s supporters still felt Rossini was attempting to steal their favourite’s thunder and many of them infiltrated the audience at Almaviva’s opening night in Rome and disrupted the performance with constant jeers and catcalls.

History has shown that perhaps they were right to be worried: today, Rossini’s Barber of Seville is one of the world’s most popular operas, yet Paisiello’s is rarely performed.

Paisiello was educated at a Jesuit school in Taranto. His father wanted his son to become a lawyer but noted the beauty of his singing voice and enrolled him at the Conservatory of San Onofrio at Naples.

A poster advertising the premiere of Paisiello's opera Nina
A poster advertising the premiere
of Paisiello's opera Nina
There he displayed a talent for composing too, and the quality of some intermezzi he wrote for the conservatory’s theatre led to him being invited to write his first operas, La Pupilla and Il Marchese Tulissano. These brought him instant recognition and he settled in Naples, producing a series of successful operas, popular for being simple, dramatic, and always fast moving.

He set himself up in rivalry with the established giants of the Neapolitan school, Niccolò Piccinni, Domenico Cimarosa and Pietro Guglielmi. He was known for being bitterly outspoken when one or another of the trio staged a work that received public acclaim, but he enjoyed his own triumphs, in particular with his 1767 comic opera L'ldolo cinese. 

Paisiello left Naples only when he was invited in 1776 by the Russian empress Catherine II to St. Petersburg, where he remained for eight years. It was there that he produced Il barbiere di siviglia, with a libretto by Giuseppe Petrosellini, based on the play by Pierre Beaumarchais.

Il barbiere premiered in St Petersburg in 1782 and its fame spread quickly around Europe. Among those influenced by the artistry of his score and the beauty of the melodies was Mozart, whose Marriage of Figaro made its debut four years later as a sequel to Paisiello’s Barbiere.

Paisiello left Russia in 1784, initially going to Vienna before returning to Naples to enter the service of King Ferdinand IV, where he enjoyed more success, composing what many regard as his best operas, including Nina and La Molinara, the latter featuring perhaps the best-known tune that Paisiello wrote in his lifetime, the duet Nel cor più non mi sento, which inspired works by Beethoven, Paganini and many others.

Domenico Cimarosa was a target for  Paisiello's outspoken comments
Domenico Cimarosa was a target for
Paisiello's outspoken comments
His decline began after he was invited to Paris in 1802 by Napoleon, for whom he had composed a march for the funeral of General Hoche. This time his rivals were Luigi Cherubini and Etienne Méhul, towards whom he displayed similar jealousy to that he once aimed at Cimarosa, Guglielmi and Piccinni.

However, the Parisian public was unimpressed and in 1803 he obtained permission to return to Italy, citing his wife's ill health. He kept his job in Naples even after the fall of Ferdinand IV, who was replaced as king by Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, and in turn by Joachim Murat.

But by then he was beginning to lose his touch and his fortunes declined just as the power of the Bonapartes was collapsing. His wife died in 1815 and his own health failed quickly thereafter. He died in 1816 at the age of 76.

In addition to his operas, Paisiello wrote a good deal of church music and instrumental works that include symphonies, harp and piano concerti, string quartets, sonatas for harp, violin and cello.

The 20th century saw his Barbiere and La Molinara revived along with a number of other operas and instrumental pieces.

The Castello Aragonese is a landmark in Taranto
The Castello Aragonese is a landmark in Taranto
Travel tip:

Taranto, situated at the top of the inside of the ‘heel’ of Italy, where Paisiello was born, is a large city - population in excess of 200,000 - of two distinct sections, divided by a swing bridge. The bridge links the small island containing the Città Vecchia, the old city, guarded by the imposing 15th century Castello Aragonese castle, which protects an area of Greek origins which has not been overdeveloped and has an authentic atmosphere of old southern Italy.  On the southern side of the bridge is the modern, new city, full of wide boulevards and carrying a much more prosperous air.  The city is heavily industrialised with a huge steel industry and a large naval base but its National Museum contains one of the most important collections of Greek and Roman artefacts in Italy.

The Conservatorio of San Onofrio
The Conservatorio of San Onofrio
Travel tip:

The Conservatorio of San Onofrio a Porta Capuana was one of the four original Naples conservatories, founded in 1588 and developed first as an orphanage. Almost one fifth of the students at the Conservatory of San Onofrio were castrati, which gave it a different identity.  Its popularity declined during the Napoleonic period, and only 30 students remained when the conservatory merged with that of Santa Maria di Loreto in 1797.


20 February 2018

The Barber of Seville premieres in Rome

Rival fans wreck debut of Rossini’s most famous opera

A typical costume for the main character, the barber Figaro
A typical costume for the main
character, the barber Figaro
The Barber of Seville, the work that would come to be seen as Gioachino Rossini’s masterpiece of comic opera, was performed for the first time on this day in 1816 at the Teatro Argentina in Rome.

Commissioned by the theatre’s owner, Duke Francesco Sforza-Cesarini, it had a libretto by Cesare Sterbini based on the French comedy play Le Barbier de Séville and was originally entitled Almaviva or The Useless Precaution, out of deference to Giovanni Paisiello, the most popular composer in Italy in the 18th century, whose own version of Il barbiere di Siviglia had been very successful.

The second part of the same text, by Pierre Beaumarchais, was behind Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, which premiered four years after Paisiello’s.

Nonetheless, Paisiello’s loyal fans saw Rossini’s opera as an attempt to steal their favourite’s thunder, whatever name he gave it, and organised what was nothing short of an act of sabotage, packing the theatre on opening night and proceeding to jeer, shout and catcall throughout the whole performance, unsettling the cast and leading to a number of mishaps on stage.

Rossini, who had conducted the opening performance, was so outraged and embarrassed he stayed away the following night, handing the baton to a deputy.

Rossini wrote the part of Figaro specifically for his friend, the baritone Luigi Zamboni
Rossini wrote the part of Figaro specifically
for his friend, the baritone Luigi Zamboni
Yet, having already made his mark with hits such as Tancredi, L’Italiana in Algeri and Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra, Rossini had a following of his own and the audience for the second night, on hearing the now unmistakable arias for the first time, declared the opera a resounding success, their enthusiasm such that a crowd gathered outside his residence later in the evening to voice their approval.

Luigi Zamboni, the bass-baritone Rossini had in mind when he wrote the score – in the space of just 12 days, he later claimed – gave a bravura performance as Figaro, the barber of the title and something of a Mr Fixit, as in “Largo al factotum” – “Make way for the factotum” – the resounding aria that marks his entry on to the stage in the first act.

Count Almaviva, the Spanish nobleman who enlists Figaro’s help in wooing the rich ward of an elderly physician, was sung by the tenor, Manuel Garcia, who had worked with Rossini before, with the role of Rosina, the object of his affections, played by the contralto Geltrude Righetti-Giorgi. The bass Bartolomeo Botticelli was cast as her guardian, Dr Bartolo, whose motive for wishing to keep Rosina from running off with a handsome young suitor was that he wished to marry her himself when she came of age.

It was not long before the opera was being performed in cities across Europe, becoming known so generally as The Barber of Seville that the original title was, in time, discarded.

It made its London debut at the King’s Theatre in March 1818, followed by a version in English at Covent Garden in October of the same year.  The same translation, by John Fawcett and Daniel Terry, was performed at the Park Theatre in New York in 1819, becoming the first Italian opera staged in America to be sung in the original language when it returned to the Park Theatre in 1825, with Garcia again in the role of Almaviva.

More than 200 years later, according to Operabase, the respected collator of opera statistics, The Barber of Seville is the seventh most performed opera in the world, just ahead of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. On performance numbers, Verdi’s La Traviata is the world’s favourite.

The  Teatro Argentina, where the Barber of Seville was performed for the first time,  is one of  Rome's oldest theatres
The  Teatro Argentina, where The Barber of Seville was
performed for the first time,  is one of  Rome's oldest theatres
Travel tip:

The Teatro Argentina opera house in Rome is one of the oldest theatres in the city, constructed in 1731 to designs by Gerolamo Theodoli, on behalf of the Sforza-Cesarini family. It takes its name from its location on the Largo di Torre Argentina, a square that was named not after the South American country but by a Papal Master of Ceremonies who hailed from Strasbourg, the Latin name for which was Argentoratum. The theatre stands on the site of the Curia Pompeia, the meeting hall in which Julius Caesar was murdered in 44BC.

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The Palazzo Ducale is a typical palace in Pesaro
The Palazzo Ducale is a typical palace in Pesaro
Travel tip:

Gioachino Rossini was born in Pesaro, now a seaside resort in the northern part of Marche, about 40km (25 miles) south of the much better known resort of Rimini, in Emilia-Romagna.  Like many Italian Adriatic resorts, it has an old town distinctly different from the hotel-lined avenues close to the sea, in Pesaro’s case built on the site of an old Roman settlement that changed hands many times over the centuries until it became capital of the duchy of the Della Rovere family, who built many of the palaces that survive in the old town. It was still part of the Papal States when Rossini was born in 1792.