Gioachino Rossini: The Barber of Seville Overture


Gioachino Rossini’s highly popular comic opera, The Barber of Seville was premiered on 20th February 1816 at the Teatro Argentina in Rome. The libretto for the opera was based on Pierre Beaumarchais’s comedy Le Barbier de Séville (1775). Rossini composed some of the most engaging operas of all time, with The Barber of Seville being regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of comedy within music – “the opera buffa of all opere buffe!” 


The Music

The original Overture for The Barber of Seville was mysteriously lost after its premiere in 1816. However, Rossini, armed with a chest of musical delights not yet used, recycled some of his old opera themes and created what we now know today as the Overture to The Barber of Seville. 

Therefore, similarly to that of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro Overture, Rossini’s new opener bears absolutely no musical resemblance to that of any of the opera’s music. This can sometimes prove a hard sell for the composer when the music didn’t represent the product, however the quirky Overture became one of his staple works, with it often being heard as a stand-alone concert piece.

Opening with a fanfare that turns into a short musical exchange between the winds and strings, the opening is in typical Rossini style. Through this slow movement there is a real element of suppressed energy that just wants to burst out. A repeat of the opening fanfare line leads the orchestra into the much-anticipated faster section.

Fast string movement builds the excitement when the material is then passed onto the flourishing winds. Chromatic movement colours the fast moving harmonic language in the Overture, which leaves Rossini to lay the foundations for his iconic dynamic builds. 

Wind and horn solos dominate the next section with a real light touch dominating the character of this section. The tempo picks up again with the decorations becoming tighter and more exciting. A sequence of small pauses are heard to break the tension before a reprise of the opening material is heard. 

Rossini builds the dynamic up, teasing the listener every time the music begins to swell but comes right back down again. The tempo builds again as the orchestra begins to unite for the final few bars of this exhilarating Overture. Descending chromatic movement dominates the tension building as repetitive strings play alternating lines that leads the Overture to a rousing finish.


Final Thoughts

There is a reason why Rossini’s Overtures are some of his finest examples of orchestral writing. Even when the musical material bears no effect on the actual opera, it has still become one of his most iconic works. It has been arranged numerous times over the years for different ensembles, with it being a staple in wind and brass band repertory also. A thrilling open to what was to be his most-loved opera.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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