Beaumarchais, too, had presented his own play as an opÈra-comique, adding several songs between the verses; but Paisielloís version, which premiered in St. Petersburg on September 26, 1782, was by far, and for many years, the most popular.
Rossini did not use Petroselliniís libretto for Paisielloís 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 Rossiniís 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 Paisielloís work, the title of the opera was changed to Almaviva, Ossia líinutile 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 audienceís 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.
This Bavarian State Opera production is one of the first German opera telecasts, and it is now also available on DVD. This performance, sung in German, has the ìstandardî cuts of the 50s, but that does not diminish the quality, or enjoyment of the opera. The stellar cast is a veritable ìWhoís Whoî of opera, and one to be envied today. This is ensemble singing at its best, and it is evident throughout the performance that the singers are enjoying themselves participating in the pranks and mad cap situations of the libretto, as one is delighted to be listening to the recording.
Hermann Prey (July 11, 1929/July 22, 1998), probably better known for Lieder, was just as popular and successful singing opera, as this interpretation of Figaro will attest. His voice has been categorized as ìlyric baritoneî or ìbass-baritone,î but whatever category one chooses for him, his mastery over his instrument, his perfect musicality, his phrasing, and the warmth of his voice cannot be denied.
In his introductory aria, ìIch bin das Faktotum/Largo al factotumî Prey displays his virtuosity, agility, and his overall ability to interpret and to keep up with Rossiniís fast paced music and intricate vocal writing, while showcasing all the diverse dynamics of the character: amusing, self assured, arrogant, and shy but not so humble barber and jack of all trades. At a time when other singers would have been tired, Prey ends his monologue as energetically as he started it. He shines as well in ìStrathlt auf mich der Blitz des Goldes/La dolce idea del oroî with Graf Almaviva, and in the ensembles ìW¸nsche Ihnen wohl zu ruhen/Buona sera mio signoreî when Figaro, Almaviva, Rosine and Doktor Bartolo convince Don Basilio that he is deathly ill, and later in the Terzetto, ìIst erís wirklich? Ah! Qual colpo inaspettato!î with Almaviva and Rosine.
Graf Almaviva has had few interpreters as Fritz Wunderlich (Sept. 26, 1930/Sept. 17, 1966). The best German Lyric tenor of his generation and of the post war era, Wunderlich was a master technician, stylist, and as Fischer-Dieskau called him, a ìsuperlative musician.î
In Act I, ìSieh Schon die Morgenrˆte/Ecco ridente,î Wunderlich is the ideal love-struck youth; his smooth, expressive, clear voice ending the aria with a supplicating note. His flawless and flexible instrument easily adapts to the different situations in the libretto as in: the exchange with Doktor Bartolo in ìHe, ihr Leute hier vom Hause/Ehi di casaÖbuona genteÖ,î where he frolics in a supposed drunken stupor and in Act II, in ìFriede und Freudesei mit Ihnen/Ma vedi il mio destinoÖPace e gioa sia con voiÖî pretending to be the saintly Don Alonso; the more calculating moments with Figaro, ìStrathlt auf mich der Blitz des Goldes/La dolce idea del oroî followed by ìSi vediamoÖche invenzione prelibata,î leading to the end of the scene; and in his more romantic moments with Rosine, ìWollet Ihr meinen Namen Jetzt kennen/ Se il mio nome saper voi branate,î His sudden and tragic death at age 36 cut short a career which would have reached the highest pinnacles. Luckily his voice has been preserved in many recordings.
In spite of Rossini having scored the female lead for a mezzo-soprano, he may as well have done so with coloratura Erika Kˆth (Sept. 15, 1927/Feb. 29, 1989) in mind. From her debut at age twenty-one, to her retirement, Kˆth never ceased to amaze. She possessed a clear voice with an expressive timbre, which enabled her to excel in a variety of roles ranging from Queen of the Night, Lucia, and Gilda, to Mimi, Musetta, lighter Strauss, Lortzing, Nicolai, and operetta.
Kˆthís comedic timing is perfect for Rossini, as she so ably demonstrates in the coquettish coloratura exchange with Figaro, ìAlso ich! Glaubst es wirkin! /Dunque son ioî to end of duet, or with Bartolo in ìMir f‰llt ein Stein vom Herzen/Insomma, colle buone…î where she ridicules him in her reply, ìÖmi parloÖqual biglietto?…î She excels in the ensembles too, and in the Terzetto, ìIst erís wirklich?/ Ah! Qual colpo inaspettato!î where the blending of the voices is sublime, Kˆth is at her best. The soprano is as believable an interpreter as ever found, never sounding older than the age of the character. Kˆthís musical intelligence, and effortless high notes are demonstrated in ìUna voce poco fa.î The interpolated notes are tasteful, never out of place, and Kˆth tosses an F as easily as others would recite a prayer. Her singing is expressive and smooth, though there is some strain at the end of the aria. Her singing with Graf Almaviva in ìO diese Glut in Blicken/Contro un cor che accende amoreî is passionate and sensitive, and turns spectacular towards the end of the number. Kˆthís breath control is impressive, as is her ability to produce, what appear to be, endless high notes.
Bass Max Proebstl (Sept-24-1913/Nov. 19, 1979) portrays the likeable anti-hero of the story, Doktor Bartolo. Proebstl performance is superb from his first to last note. In ìEinen Doktor meinesgleichen/A un dottor della mia sorteî he is the quintessential lustful guardian/tutor seeking to deceive his younger ward. Proebstl is quick to keep up with the music while exaggerating some of the words to give more weight to their meaning, and at times giggling under his breath to add emphasis. His singing is solid with great shading in his voice to match the different tones of the aria. Proebstl is very amusing in the two previously mentioned scenes with Graf Almaviva, ìHe, ihr Leute hier vom Hause/Ehi di casaÖbuona genteÖ,î and ìFriede und Freudesei mit Ihnen/Ma vedi il mio destinoÖPace e gioa sia con voi,î his expressive voice instantly becoming indignant at the pranks of Graf Almaviva. In ìSchˆne Stimme! Bravissima!/Bella voce! Bravissima!î Proebst turns sentimental as he mimics Caffarielloís aria.
Proebstl made his operatic debut in 1941, and in 1949 he was engaged by the Bavarian State Opera which was to become his home for the next twenty five years. His repertoire was extensive and covered a wide range of characters, though mainly in the German language. Proebstl was well known for his portrayal of Pogner, Falstaff, and Bartolo among others. He left a small but unique recording legacy.
Don Basilio is sung by Hans Hotter (Jan. 19, 1909/Dec. 8, 2003), the leading post-war Wagnerian bass baritone. Hotterís interpretations of Wotan, Hans Sachs, and Dutchman were characterized as noble and imposing, which led to the sobriquet ìThe Aristocrat of Bass-Baritones.î He made his debut in 1930, he created roles in the premieres of three Strauss operas, and he retired from the stage in 1972 after a distinguished career. Though retired, Hotter continued to sing smaller roles as late as 1991.
If Hotterís rendition of Don Basilio is any indication, it is unfortunate he did not take on more buffo roles. Hotterís natural flair for comedy, his timing, and his melancholic voice gives this character a human, naive aspect. His rendition of ìDie Verleumdung, sie ist ein L¸ftchen/La calunnia Ë un venticelloî is restrained and elegant with an undercurrent of wicked humor and hypocrisy. In ìW¸nsche Ihnen wohl zu ruhen/Buona sera mio signoreÖî during Basilioís exit after being convinced by all that he is deathly ill, Hotterís character takes on a mellow tone disguising he knows more than he is willing to acknowledge.
Tenor Karl Ostertag (Jan. 10, 1903/ Dec. 15, 1979) nearing the end of his career when this performance took place, sings the role of Fiorillo with great aplomb and the energy of one half his age. He makes the best of this small role and keeps up with Graf Almaviva in ìPiano, pianissimo,î and the riotous ìGar zu g¸tig, Euer Gnaden!/Mille grazzie mio signor.î
Mezzo-soprano Ina Gerhein (Oct. 29, 1906/?) in the role of Marzeline (Berta) does not get enough opportunity to display her instrument as most of her role has been cut. When she does sing, her voice is pleasant, and restrained.
Better known for conducting Strauss and Wagner, Conductor Joseph Keilberth (April 19, 1908/July 20, 1968) is quite comfortable in this performance and leads the orchestra and chorus of the Bavarian State Opera with thorough knowledge of the score, and energetic support of the ensemble cast.
There is a Bonus track from a performance of Rossiniís ìBarberî in Vienna with another stellar cast: Eberhard Wachter as Figaro, Reri Grist as Rosine, and Fritz Wunderlich as Graf Almaviva. The Orchester und Chor der Wiener Staatsoper is conducted by Karl Bohm, Vienna, and recorded live on April 28, 1966.
Rossini would have approved!
This two disc set is a live performance recording and as such there will be some insignificant background noise which does not affect the overall enjoyment of the performance; the audience participation, in the form of well deserved applause, is kept to a minimum. The sound is not in stereo, but it is good, with one exception on CD 1, track #13, where the volume becomes slightly higher. There are several pages of liner notes, but there is no libretto.
Daniel Pardo 2005
Rossini: a Biography
© 1968 Herbert Weistock
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Der Barbier von Sevilla
© 2005 Gala
Dictionary-Catalogue of Operas & Operettas
© 1967 Da Capo Press, New York
A Concise Biographical Dictionary of Singers
K.J. Kutsch/Leo Riemens
© 1969 Harry L. Jones
Chilton Book Company, Philadelphia
[Note: This recording is also available on Immortal DVD IMM 950015.]
image_description=Gioachino Rossini: Der Barbier von Sevilla (Barbiere di Siviglia)
product_title=Gioachino Rossini: Der Barbier von Sevilla (Barbiere di Siviglia)
product_by=Hermann Prey; Erika Koth; Fritz Wunderlich; Max Proebstl; Hans Hotter; Ina Gerhein; Karl Ostertag; Adolf Keil. Orchester und Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Joseph Keilberth (cond.). Live recording: M¸nchen, CuvilliÈstheater, 1959.
Bonus: Der Barbier von Sevilla (Highlights in German). Eberhard Wachter; Reri Grist; Fritz Wunderlich; Orchester und Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Karl Bohm (cond.). Live recording: Vienna, April 28, 1966.
product_id=Gala 100.759 [2CDs]