Pre-performance Talk.....


..... given in the National Concert Hall Dublin on 12, 13 and 15 October 2019 at Lyric Opera’s production of Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia.  It incorporates elements and highlights from my related presentation on bel canto at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura Dublino (03 Oct), from an interview given on East Coast FM (05 Oct) and from an evening engagement at Bray Arts (07 Oct). 

George Fleeton


SINCE Lyric Opera’s initial, fully staged production, nearly 25 years ago, this is our first bel canto opera, our first Rossini and our first Barbiere.


ROSSINI’S forte was comedy and alongside his two contemporaries, 200 years ago, Donizetti and Bellini, they re-imagined Italian opera as we know it today.

AND in turn they paved the way for yet newer styles of musical narratives and narrative melodramas such as those written by Verdi and Puccini.

FOR two decades Rossini wrote two operas a year, most of them still performed today; then at age 38, his health broke down and he took early retirement in Bologna, where he lived for a further 38 years soaking up the applause but hiding terminal illness behind a congenial extroverted persona.

STENDHAL had written that ‘the glory of this composer is only limited by the limits of civilisation itself!’ and Rossini loved every word of that hyperbole.

ROSSINI had brought shape and discipline to Italian opera in the form of overtures, the structure of acts and scenes within an opera, and an abundance of memorable tunes in set-piece arias and ensembles.

AND he conjured new sounds out of the orchestra - wasn’t it nice of him to ensure that the orchestra had such a whale of a good time playing his music?

FOR the voice, he wrote elegantly and elaborately; and he made coloratura and fioritura possible – the flowery, ad-lib decoration of the vocal line, which the singers, if they had nerves of steel, could run at in leaps and bounds, showing off their new found bel canto techniques, though by the time they came back down to the score com’è scritto the narrative thrust of the opera might have been slowed down [which, for example,  can make Act 1 of Barbiere seem very long].

BUT that was a small price to pay for a thing of incomparable beauty, built on those high-wire special vocal effects, unheard of since the Baroque castrati; yet all this went out of fashion when Verdi’s bloodless coup took over Italian opera for the following 40 to 50 years.


IS this opera bullet proof? Is it the most popular and most performed piece in the whole repertory?

THE statistics might say so, but Il Barbiere must always compete with Le nozze di Figaro and L’elisir d’Amore, in the comic genre, and with at least half of everything written by Verdi plus Puccini, i.e. about a further 15 operas.

IS it the best opera for nervous beginners? Tentatively yes, but I would add, from long experience, it belongs to an accessible bunch comprising indispensables such as Die Zauberflöte, La Traviata, Carmen and La Bohème.

DOES Act 1 really last over 90 mins without a break? It does, and I have often been thanked by audiences, at other productions I have worked on, for that bladder warning; Act 2 is always much shorter. 

SINGING Rossini is a specialism; lots of big names, then and now, don’t touch it; it takes special voices, unafraid of the exposure this music lends to their performances.

SINGERS must master the fiendishly difficult technique and style – the runs and roulades - that proper Rossini singing requires, if only because Rossini’s melodic writing aims, from the outset, at technical brilliance, and in that context think too of his Cenerentola and Donizetti’s Elisir d’Amore or Don Pasquale.

YET to its eternal credit Il Barbiere quickly became the standard against which every comic opera, opera buffa, is compared.

THE music – the bel canto repertoire - may well be beautiful but it requires great voices to make it meaningful.

IN 1898, 30 years after Rossini’s death, Verdi said in an interview that for abundance of musical ideas, and the vigorous pacing of its comic twists and turns, and its truth of declamation, Il Barbiere is the most beautiful opera buffa in existence: the Verdi verdict.

THIS evening we offer you a sunny comedy with a simple plot: an elderly guardian who wants to marry his young ward but is foiled by the girl and her lover, thanks to the tricks and intrigues of his own barber.


IS it unusual for an opera to take its name from the third or fourth character of importance, say the baritone?

IT certainly is.

ANOTHER example, anyone? 

YES, Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro, 30 years before Il Barbiere, which of course involved the same character. Our Rossini opera [1816] recounts the youthful adventures of the more mature, disillusioned characters who had turned up in Mozart’s piece [1786].  Rossini is Mozart without the pathos.

SO, is Figaro the barber central to both operas? Yes, but not musically, only in terms of plot development and to push the narrative smartly along; after all he is the self-confessed factotum, Aristotle’s deus ex machina, the personification of the rhetorical device known as the fixer.

UNLIKE Donizetti and the more melancholic Bellini, Rossini is a very noisy composer, much given to crescendi extending over whole ensembles, never better used than in the finale of Barbiere Act 1.

IT was he who most ably captured the spirit of humour and comedy in music: the frothy verve of the orchestral writing – evident right from the opening bars of the overture – and the buoyancy of the vocal line; for writing comedy into orchestral music is a task as difficult as writing tragedy.


OUR next Lyric production here will be Beethoven’s singular opera, Fidelio, sung in German, in the mark 3 version, from Vienna, 1814, in two performances: 22 & 23 Feb 2020, as part of Beethoven’s 250th birthday celebrations.

AFTER that I am producing and presenting a Gala Concert for my old friend Fr Peter McVerry to raise funds for ‘Peter McVerry Trust’ , in the RDS Concert Hall at Ballsbridge on Saturday 04 April 2020.

THE Concert will feature my Northern Lights ensemble of light classical musicians, led by the three singers known worldwide as The Priests, and there are some details of that in your Barber programme and, later, on my website

MY association with Lyric Opera goes back a full seven years and among my very pleasant tasks is to write an article about the opera for the audience programme, and to welcome you to the performances by way of these short, illustrated introductions.

ON behalf of Vivian Coates and all our principals, our chorus,  orchestra and back-stage team, thank you for your continued support for our efforts to stage zeitgeist opera in Dublin, with no public funding of any sort.

WE are immensely proud to mark 25 years in business with our Fidelio next year; we are actively planning future productions: it promises to be a fascinating journey; please join us on our travels.