Rossini : El Barbero de SevillaNew York, Met, 1963 (Audio)
Director: Ignace Strasfogel
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Beaumarchais, too, had presented his own play as an opéra-comique, adding several songs between the verses; but Paisiello’s version, which premiered in St. Petersburg on September 26, 1782, was by far, and for many years, the most popular.
Rossini did not use Petrosellini’s libretto for Paisiello’s opera. Instead, Duca Francesco Sforza-Cesarini, the owner-impresario of the Teatro Argentina, and the person who commissioned the work, gave the arduous task of writing a new libretto to Cesare Sterbini. Rossini was already familiar with Sterbini, a poet fluent in several languages, who had written the libretto for Rossini’s previous opera, Torvaldo e Dorliska. The poet accepted the challenge and within eleven days he presented Rossini the completed libretto. In an effort to further avoid comparisons with Paisiello’s work, the title of the opera was changed to Almaviva, Ossia l’inutile precauzione.
Different title or not, the Paisiello faction was not pleased, and on opening night, February 20, 1816, the cacophony of noise coming from the audience made it difficult for the singers on stage to hear the music in the orchestra pit. In addition to the audience’s negative reaction, several mishaps on and off stage added to the carnival like atmosphere, and to the complete failure of the opera. The second performance gave the soon to be twenty-four-year-old composer reason to smile, and though the opera would not play Rome again for five years, Il Barbiere di Siviglia quickly became, and has remained, the best known and most popular comedy in the operatic repertoire.