Right now, I have a project. Actually, right now I have way too many projects, but the Rosina Project is my current favourite. The project is quite simply this – to create a recital programme of Rosinas from the eight operas based on Beaumarchais’ plays. I have no idea if this is even possible, given that the four operas based on La Mère Coupable are all modern, somewhat obscure, and really hard to get hold of – and even if I do find them, it’s entirely possible that there won’t be any Rosina arias in these operas – or that I won’t be able to sing them if I do find them (though I’m actually fairly confident of my ability to get my voice around just about anything, given enough time and assuming that it doesn’t go to a top F or the like). I don’t know yet whether this will turn out to be feasible for exam purposes, or whether it will just be a recital, or even whether I might try pulling together the stories of Susanna and Cherubino as well, to make it more fun and add some of the more entertaining duets.
But right now, I’m just having fun listening to the differences between Paisiello’s and Rossini’s versions of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Paisiello got there first, writing his opera in 1782. Mozart then wrote an opera of the sequel, Le Nozze di Figaro in 1786, after which Rossini, in 1816, decided to try his own version of Il Barbiere. As Paisiello’s Barbiere was very well-loved, this was a controversial move, and indeed, critics complained that Rossini had turned sweet, docile Rosina into a harridan (I suspect it was this aria that did the trick).
Here’s Paisiello’s version of the music lesson scene, in which Rosina performs for her strict guardian, Bartolo, waiting for him to fall asleep so that she can converse with her beloved Lindoro, disguised as a music tutor. Rossini’s version is below the cut.
I love the gracefulness of this piece – it’s very late-baroque and delicate, and even while Paisiello is making it into almost a cliché of a singing exercise sort of piece, it’s still gorgeous. Paisiello’s Rosina is also very definitely a soprano (Rossini’s Rosina is often a mezzo, though the role is very much disputed), which is the most traditional voice part for the female romantic lead and the ingenue. The style of music is also very light and sweet, emphasising Rosina’s innocence.
Here’s the same scene as envisaged by Rossini:
You’ll note, for one thing, that this Rosina has a much lower mezzo-soprano voice – much more dramatic and adult than that of Bonelli in the previous clip. (And isn’t it interesting that we do tend to hear a lower voice and assume an older, more sophisticated character?) I also have to note that Berganza has a truly amazing sense of effortlessness in her singing, particularly in the repeat, and amazing low notes. This music seems more substantial to me, too, a little less light and delicate than that of Paisiello. And I have to laugh, because it also has the signature Rossini Rocket ending, that you can hear in practically every aria he does…
I also find it interesting that both scenes are staged and acted quite similarly. For all her sweet innocence, Rosina is the leader in this relationship, at least at this point – she’s the one taking risks and embracing Lindoro, while he just goes along with it. (And in this version, she’s the one drugging Bartolo before the music lesson starts, which is an interesting take on the whole thing.)
It’s a little sad to reflect that when we next see her, she will be married to Lindoro, now the Count of Almaviva, and conspiring with her maid, Susanna, to prevent him seducing her under the guise of droit de seigneur. Perhaps Bartolo was onto something when he wanted to prevent her marriage to Lindoro?