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Theatre / The Barber of Seville

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Welcome to my shop
Lemme cut your mop
Lemme shave your crop
Bugs Bunny's improvised English lyrics, Rabbit of Seville

Or, in the original Italian, Il barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L'inutile precauzione: "The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution." It is a Romantic Comedy drawing upon the Commedia dell'Arte tradition.

The Opera we're talking about is the version composed by Gioachino Rossini, and it isn't the only work by this name. Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais wrote a play, Le Barbier de Seville, which was first performed in 1775; it has been adapted a good four times, but Rossini's work gets the Adaptation Displacement Award by virtue of popularity. Its "sequel," The Marriage of Figaro, was actually written some 30 years earlier by some Austrian kid named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The third play in the Beaumarchais's trilogy, La Mère coupable ("The Guilty Mother"), was also adapted into opera, but today is basically forgotten by history, possibly due to its Genre Shift to Darker and Edgier drama.

The Barber of Seville revolves around a noble, Count Almaviva, who has a serious case of Love at First Sight with a girl named Rosina, currently living as a ward to Dr. Bartolo. The Count, who wants Rosina to love him, not his title or money, has been disguising himself as a music student named Lindoro, but the two have not even had an occasion to speak yet. Help enters in the form of Figaro, the Count's former servant and the titular Barber of Seville, who has Dr. Bartolo's trust and offers his services to the Count — for a fee, of course. This being a comedy, Hilarity Ensues.

The main opposition is the aforementioned Dr. Bartolo, a physician who wants to marry Rosina himself. Rosina's music teacher, Don Basilio, is in league with him in this quest. There is also a character named Berta, also known as Marcellina, who was probably thrown in as a Continuity Nod (or Chekhov's Gunman) to Mozart's opus; she is The Ghost in Beaumarchais' play, and her role in Barber amounts to little more than a cameo.

You've probably heard of this opera, and that's because The Barber of Seville is one of the most popular productions of the genre. As observed by characters in the manga Emma: A Victorian Romance, nobody dies in this show; it also offers a lot of opportunities for humor which even modern audiences would get. And we can hardly forget the Looney Tunes homage stuff ("Rabbit of Seville", anyone?). And Woody Woodpecker's "The Barber of Seville" take on it as well.

The Barber of Seville provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Almighty Janitor. Figaro fits the type, despite being a barber.
  • The Barber: Figaro.
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory: Count Almaviva first hires Figaro to help him, later he bribes Basilio twice — first to go along with Figaro's "diagnosis" that he has scarlet fever, then to stand as a witness at the improvised wedding — and finally he gets Bartolo to accept his defeat by letting him keep Rosina's dowry.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: In "Largo al factotum," Figaro explains that the tools of his trade include scissors, razors, combs, and leeches for bleeding. note 
  • Copycat Mockery: Bartolo catches Figaro doing this to him when he comes to Bartolo's house to shave him; Figaro tries to pass it off as "son debolezze" ("a moment of weakness"). Fortunately for Figaro, Bartolo is too preoccupied with trying to win Rosina's attention to pay him much notice.
  • Commedia dell'Arte: Rosina and Count Almaviva as the innamorati (Official Couple); Figaro as the Arlecchino and a much-less-violent version of the Brighella; Dr. Bartolo as (get this) Il Dottore.
  • Corrupt Church: Don Basilio, a Jesuit, proves to be very susceptible to bribing in the course of the opera.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Bartolo and Basilio, although it's more antagonistic than actually "evil."
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entire opera takes place over about 18 hours.
  • "I Am" Song: Largo al factotum, of course.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Dr. Bartolo's overall plan is to keep Rosina locked up until she agrees to marry him.
  • Jack of All Trades: Figaro bills himself this way, despite being professionally a barber; "Largo al factotum" loosely translates to "Make way for the Jack-of-all-trades!" His aria explains that in addition to offering shaves, haircuts, and minor surgery, his services as a matchmaker are especially in demand.
  • Malicious Misnaming: While pretending to be a drunken officer, the Count repeatedly mangles Bartolo's name, including "Balordo" (idiot), "Bertoldo" (blockhead) and "Barbaro" (barbarian).
  • Marry for Love: This is what Count Almaviva wants to do with the fair Rosina, but which he also wants her to do. Which is why for much of the play he pretends to her to be just plain Lindoro instead of the rich and powerful Count Almaviva.
  • Motor Mouth: Bartolo, with his aria "a un dottor della mia sorte."
  • Playing Drunk: The Count pretends to be drunk in order to disarm suspicion.
  • Play Within a Play: Bizarrely subverted - Rosina has the sheet music from an aria of an opera called The Useless Precaution, and sings it in the music lesson scene. The actual opera - The Barber of Seville - is subtitled The Useless Precaution.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: Quite a lot of the overture is shared with Rossini's earlier Aureliano in Palmira.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Count Almaviva, not surprisingly, being a noble, is friends with the commanding officer of the troops stationed in Seville, which stands him in good stead when Bartolo calls in a patrol to have him arrested.
  • Secondary Character Title: Almaviva is the protagonist, although Figaro's role is far from minor.
    • At the premiere in 1816, in order to appease the fans of Giovanni Paisiello and his opera Il barbiere di Seviglia (1782), Rossini entitled his opera Almaviva, ossia L'inutile precauzione. Which proved a useless precaution in itself, as said fans still did their best to disrupt the performance.
  • Serenade Your Lover: The opera opens with Almaviva doing this outside Rosina's window—with paid musicians backing him up, no less.
  • Signature Line: Though they may not always get it right, the famous rapid-fire "Figaro figarofigarofigaro" bit from Figaro's cavatina "Largo al factotum" is one of the more well-known opera clichés.
  • Standard Snippet: "Largo al factotum" and the ouverture. The latter was e. g. used for the closing credits of Help!.
  • Tenor Boy: Almaviva, who, it has been assumed, is in his twenties.
  • Title Drop: Of the secondary title. At the very end of the opera comments about Bartolo's "useless precaution". This is actually the second title drop (see "Play Within a Play").
  • The Trickster: Figaro.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Bartolo.
  • The Voiceless: The Notary has an important function in the plot (he makes sure the marriage license is properly signed), but no singing lines.
  • Villainous Advice Song: Don Basilio's bravura aria "La calunnia è un venticello", in which he advises Bartolo to frustrate Almaviva's designs on Rosina by disseminating slanderous rumours against him.
  • Wife Husbandry: A classic example of the trope, as Bartolo wants to marry his ward, Rosina.