Gioacchino Rossini: “Ecco Ridente” from “The Barber of Seville”

Rossini wrote The Barber of Seville after Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, though it is actually the prequel to it. Both works come from the French playwright, Beaumarchais, who called himself deBeaumarchais, an aristocratic title that he could claim because of a piece of land that his wife inherited. In 18th century France, this gave him a certain cache and air of respectability that a person of his class and profession (a clockmaker) could never hope to enjoy. The 18th century started off pretty well for the aristocracy, but by its end, King George III of England had lost the colonies and France’s Louis and Marie Antoinette had a very close shave in one of the bloodiest revolutions in European history. Beaumarchais’ plays were seen as dangerous because they poked fun at the nobility and upper classes of the day and portrayed common people as much more clever and sympathetic than those who claimed privilege based on birth or divine lineage.

Certainly in The Barber of Seville, the young swell, Count Almaviva, comes off as something of a simp. The opera opens on a street in Seville, where the count’s servant, Fiorello, has just entered followed by a band of musicians he has hired for Almaviva. The Count use them to accompany him as he serenades under the balcony of Rosina, a beautiful maiden in the charge of the curmudgeonly, Dr. Bartolo, who has designs on her. His song, “Ecco Ridente” is a sweet tenor’s love song to Rosina where he notes the smiling dawn, which is breaking while his beloved still sleeps. He implores her to wake before sunrise and asks Cupid to lessen the sting of the arrow which has struck him. Though saccharine and sentimental, it still is a pretty aria. I can’t decide however whether it is designed to make him look like a twit or generally sympathetic.

Rosina fails to appear, so Almaviva dismisses the musicians, paying them off handsomely in gold. They are so amazed by his generosity that they burst into a song of effusive thanks. Almaviva, worried that they might be discovered, starts to shush them. When they continue with even more vigor he starts singing back to shut up. They continue and he yells at them (still singing) “Oh you damned fools. Get out of here. You curs! Away with you!” Thereby he shows his true colors as an aristocrat.

After the musician finally leave, Figaro enters singing his famous Largo al factotum, which was the subject of my previous post.

When I heard this piece in high school, I couldn’t believe how funny this scene was. Everyone I had known growing up had made fun of opera. You know the old joke: “In opera when someone gets stabbed, instead of bleeding, they sing.” And of course, we all thought it was an art form for the upper-crusties. Little did I know that there existed an opera that actually made fun of the upper classes and in which the little guy, Figaro, is cleverer than they. Coming from humble origins myself-the son of immigrants who worked in factories and as a domestic–that probably explains why I was taken with the Barber of Seville.

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