Il Barbiere di Siviglia
(The Barber of Seville)
(Music) Gioachino Rossini
(Libretto) Cesare Sterbini
The celebrated bass, Giuseppe de Begnis, brought a company of singers to venues across the regions in 1832 - they also performed Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni that week at The Theatre in Leeds - source Leeds Intelligencer Newspaper (britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
The Theatre - source Leodis.net
The First non English language opera in Leeds
It's important to start by saying that this was not the first time an opera had been performed in Leeds by a non-English composer!
The Barber of Seville (in English) was first performed in Leeds in 1819, for example; The Marriage of Figaro in 1823.
Led by Sir Henry Rowley Bishop (Music Director at Covent Garden, London, and the first composer to be knighted) there was a popular vogue for foreign operas to be translated into English, and the music changed to suit the tastes of English audiences (and the abilities of English singers and instrumentalists).
In Bishop's version of Don Giovanni, for example, Giovanni doesn't sing (as it wasn't thought proper for high-status actors to sing) and his Marriage of Figaro had an entirely new overture because Mozart's was too difficult for the orchestra to play!
We've chosen this performance as the change from English language opera, to Italian (or foreign languages in general) is an important one.
It marks a slow change in the types of audiences who attended the opera. A more upper-class, high-society audience, and those with a great interest and knowledge of music, rather than casual theatre goers.
We still have a gap in our knowledge between 1832 and the late 1850s (where we begin to find many more foreign operas performed in Leeds, compared to English ones), and we will be focusing our research on this period to try and better understand whether foreign opera began to 'take over' Leeds theatres during this period.
Advertisement for the performance, introducing "here for the first time, the Grand Italian Opera". Someone has written the date 1821 on the playbill, however we know from newspaper records and other records of the de Begnis tour, that this performance took place in 1832 - source leodis.net
Il Barbiere di Siviglia premiered in Rome in 1816.
It took just two years for the opera to arrive in London, with Italian and English-language versions appearing in 1818 at the King's Theatre and Covent Garden Theatre.
The story is based on the second part of a trilogy of stories by Beaumarchais - the first part of the trilogy was adapted by Mozart and Da Ponte for Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) 30 years earlier.
It just so happens that these two operas have been two of the most popular operas around the world for over 200 years!
Opera North's celebrated production of The Barber of Seville
Il Barbiere di Siviglia is one of the most recorded operas of all time - there are lots of recordings to choose from!
We've chosen the Peter Moores Foundation recording, which was part of an extensive series of recordings of popular operas in English.
Here is also a link to watch a production of the opera on YouTube.
Leeds Corn Exchange, Leeds Libraries, Leeds Museums, University of Leeds, West Yorkshire Archive Service
The Original Chinese Conjuror (Northern Opera Group, August 2018)
credit: Pelly & Me Photography