Work: Il barbiere di Siviglia: Overture
About This Work
If the music of Rossini's overture to The Barber of Seville seems to have a peculiar amount of "swashbuckling" surge and vigor for a comic opera prelude, it may be because the self-same overture had originally been composed for an earlier
opera, Aureliano in Palmira, an historical work whose subject was the Crusades. It is believed that the same overture was called into use two more times before settling into the waiting room of the good barber Figaro. Rossini's recycling provides an interesting contrast with Beethoven, who composed four different overtures to arrive at the one he deemed suitable to his sole opera Fidelio. The once-perceived Sturm und Drang of the overture has been blunted by association, not only by the composer's accompanying setting of the Beaumarchais comedy but also by its jocular appearances in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, the Beatles' film Help, and a Seinfeld episode. The music is inextricably linked with high-spirited humor.
Owing to its transposed origins, the overture contains no material from the opera Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It is, however, most successful in its function, that of providing a feeling of deliciously nervous anticipation for the action to follow. Its wealth of vivacious and varied themes and its feeling of impetuous momentum render it one of the best opera overtures penned by anyone. Two brash chords herald the beginning, followed by a scampering yet hesitating figure which figures through most of the introduction; a contrasting central section is a sunny lyrical tune which could easily have been an aria. The intro seemingly drifts to somnolence until the opening chords jolt the music back to reality. A slightly grotesque Neapolitan dance takes center stage and is followed by a more jovial theme tossed between woodwinds and horns. Then begins one of Rossini's best crescendi, its headlong propulsion almost breakneck. A dramatic and sonorous chord progression in the coda suggests the overture's more serious origins, leading to the heartily assertive major key close of one of opera's most popular and best-wrought overtures.
-- Wayne Reisig
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