Summer Reruns–Gioacchino Rossini: Mi par d’esser con la testa from The Barber of Seville

This, aria from the Barber of Seville never ceases to amaze me. It did so when I first heard it about 40 years ago in high school, and did today when I gave listened to it on Youtube. It makes me think of a line from the movie, Amadeus. Mozart, speaking about his opera Le Nozze di Figaro says that opera is the only art form in which you can have four different people speaking at the same time, each presenting a different point of view or even having an argument. What’s wonderful though is that what in real life would appear pandemonium, in opera sounds heavenly.

The piece in which Rossini illustrates this fact, Mi par d’essere con la testa is a quintet for Rosina, Almaviva, Figaro, Basilio and Bartolo. Almaviva has succeeded in infiltrating Don Bartolo’s house by pretending he is a drunken soldier who has been billeted there. Don Bartolo won’t have any of it: he says he has a letter that exempts him receiving billets. As he goes to produce it, Almaviva slips Rosina a love note. Bartolo catches sight of it. Almaviva makes Bartolo drop his letter and Rosina drops hers. He then manages to mix them up handing back to Bartolo nothing more than a laundry list.

Rosina’s presence inflames Almaviva which makes Bartolo suspicious. Now angry, the doctor again tries to get the count to leave. Almaviva starts to threaten him with a sword, telling him he will kill him when Figaro arrives. The barber and Rosina try to calm the two suitors down, but they all become so loud that the local police come knocking at the door. They enter and demand to know what is going on as the din has attracted a crowd in front of the house.

Bartolo explains that he is affronted in his own house by a drunken soldier. The police chief is about to cart Almaviva away, when the count secretly shows him a letter that reveal his true identity–Count Almaviva, a nobleman. At this, the police chief is thunderstruck. Back then, nobles were inviolate. The others sing in wonderment at how something suddenly struck dumb the police chief. When he comes to his senses, he tells them to stop arguing. When Bartolo tries to get him to arrest Almaviva, the chief implies that if he doesn’t drop it, he might have to arrest him. That would have been within his powers.

This confuses everyone even more and they begin to sing:

Mi par d’esser con la testa
in un orrida fucina.
alternando questo e quello
pesantissimo martello
fa con un barbara armonia
mure e volte rimbombar, si
I feel as if I’ve stuck my head
into some dreadful smithy
Alternating one with the other
The heavy hammer blows
Make a barbarous harmony
That shakes the walls and rafters

To me this piece demonstrates once and for all Rossini’s mastery of matching his music to the words. Again, like La Calunnia it starts out soft. In the background the violins play quick triplets, punctuated by a triangle which imitates the sound of the crashing hammers. It is funny, clever, upbeat, and incredible as each voice surfaces for an instant and then is drowned out by another.

You know how the opera ends: After more intrigue and humorous scenes in which he and Figaro dupe Bartolo, Almaviva gets the girl. Not because his is any better a person, but because he could pay more than Bartolo. Maybe it’s more fitting that he is younger than Bartolo, but that’s not the main theme. The theme is that Figaro–a common barber–is clearly more clever than any of them, and idea that was revolutionary for Rossini’s day.

When you think about all the people in positions of power–US generals involved in sex scandals, corporate executives like those in Enron whose greed brought the company down, politicians who line their pockets while shafting the polity–have become our new nobility, maybe it’s time once again for some revolutionary action.

Here’s another protest song, that I’ve always liked, too.


About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

4 Responses to Summer Reruns–Gioacchino Rossini: Mi par d’esser con la testa from The Barber of Seville

  1. Nice, Sunday morning music. Hope all is well with you….


    • kurtnemes says:

      Hey. We haven’t chatted for a while. Hope you’re well, too. I didn’t know you lived in SC. For some reason I had thought you were in a colder clime. Sounds like you have been going through some business changes. How’s the essays going? My brother’s step-father-in-law was an undertaker in Mishawaka, Indiana. Do you know of undertakers have compiled a book of their essays or stories about working with the bereaved or one’s own struggle. My brother also was a volunteer fireman and had paramedic training. As a first responder, he often had to administer CPR or was the first one at an accident. One morning he went to have some film developed and had a nice chat with the young man behind the counter. That evening, he was called to an accident where a group of four had been traveling too fast, didn’t see the road ended in a junction, hit a boulder, became airborne and crashed through the side of a barn. When he arrived he smelled gas and hurried to pull the people out. When he went to unbuckled one of the dead boys it the back, it was the young man from the photo store. There are unsung heroes out there and more people need to hear about them. Best


      • I grew up in North, NJ and had spent some time in the Pocono’s of PA and Frederick County, MD before heading South in 1996. Over the years, I worked in fire/EMS and there were many times that I took someone to the hospital in an ambulance and then brought them back to the FH in a hearse. Working for the most part in fairly small communities, I often knew those that I was encountering in both arenas. Sometimes that makes it easier, but often times it is a reminder of coming attractions for all of us. It is easier to remember that when you are dealing with someone you know.

        Back to the music . . . I had heard this piece, now and then over the years, but had forgotten it’s origin. Thank you for the refresher course….

        Liked by 1 person

  2. kvennarad says:

    You mention Mozart, so I’m sharing this:


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