Everybody know Rossini’s aria, especially the cartoon makers. So I thought I’d present six versions of the piece without resorting to either an Italian or American baritone limiting my selections to singers not known for this role. The word are presented below, first in Italian and then in English. The Barber of Seville is almost 200 years old but is perpetually young. Largo al factotum is so familiar that it’s hard to imagine how new and different from anything before it it must have seemed to audiences in the second decade of the 19th century.
Mario Del Monaco (1915-82) had a voice that was a baritonal as a tenor can get. His rendition of Largo al factotum is extreme even by the standard of Tom and Jerry, but he has so much voice that you can forgive all of his tenorial strutting, blurred notes, missed runs, and general display of going without air comparable to a whale.
John Rawnsley is a British baritone (b 1951) who has made a career in both opera and musical theater. He has a bright and focused baritone that handles Rossini’s famous tune with aplomb and panache.
Simon Keenlyside (b 1959) is another British baritone who is much better known to opera goers than Rawnsley. Rossini’s barber, however, is not a role associated with this fine artist. Nevertheless, his is a rousing interpretation that captures all the insouciance inherent in the part. The role is in his repertoire and I’d really like to see him do it, though I suspect he’s permanently put it on the shelf.
Hermann Prey (1929-98) was a German baritone best known for Mozart and Strauss. His light approach to Rossini’s Figaro is likely close to what the composer had in mind when he wrote the opera in 1816. Prey was also a distinguished singer of lieder.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky (b 1962) is best know for the big Verdi baritone roles and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. This performance was recorded at a recital concert. I don’t know if Hvorostovsky has sung the complete opera. As is obvious from this performance as well as the rest of his work, his baritone is perfectly suited to the part.
If a tenor can sing the Barber’s song why not a soprano? Deanna Durbin (1921-2013) was one of the highest paid Hollywood actresses in the 1940s. She had a light lyric soprano which came across very effectively on the screen. She retired at age 29 and never again performed anywhere, living the remainder of her long life in France. She likely could have been successful as an operatic lyric soprano. Her story is like that of Mario Lanza only with a happy ending.
I suspect that Largo al factotum is so sturdy that it can survive anything and that 200 years from now it will still be as popular as it has been for the last 200.
Technical note: I’ve embedded the music player into this post rather than the usual link. Let me know which of these techniques you prefer.
Largo al factotum della citta.
Presto a bottega che l’alba e gia.
Ah, che bel vivere, che bel piacere
per un barbiere di qualita!
Ah, bravo Figaro!
Fortunatissimo per verita!
Pronto a far tutto,
la notte e il giorno
sempre d’intorno in giro sta.
Miglior cuccagna per un barbiere,
vita piu nobile, no, non si da.
Rasori e pettini
lancette e forbici,
al mio comando
tutto qui sta.
V’e la risorsa,
poi, de mestiere
colla donnetta… col cavaliere…
Tutti mi chiedono, tutti mi vogliono,
donne, ragazzi, vecchi, fanciulle:
Qua la parruca… Presto la barba…
Qua la sanguigna…
Presto il biglietto…
Qua la parruca, presto la barba,
Presto il biglietto, ehi!
Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!, ecc.
Ahime, che furia!
Ahime, che folla!
Uno alla volta, per carita!
Figaro! Son qua.
Ehi, Figaro! Son qua.
Figaro qua, Figaro la,
Figaro su, Figaro giu,
Pronto prontissimo son come il fumine:
sono il factotum della citta.
Ah, bravo Figaro! Bravo, bravissimo;
a te fortuna non manchera.
Handyman of the city.
Early in the workshop I arrive at dawn.
Ah, what a life, what a pleasure
For a barber of quality!
Ah, bravo Figaro!
Bravo, very good!
I am the luckiest, it’s the truth!
Ready for anything,
night and day
I’m always on the move.
Cushier fate for a barber,
A more noble life cannot be found.
Razors and combs
Lancets and scissors,
at my command
everything is here.
Here are the extra tools
then, for business
With the ladies… with the gentlemen…
Everyone asks me, everyone wants me,
women, children, old people, young ones:
Here are the wigs… A quick shave of the beard…
Here are the leeches for bleeding…
Here are the wigs, a quick shave soon,
The note, hey!
Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!, Etc..
Alas, what frenzy!
Alas, what a crowd!
One at a time, for goodness sake!
Figaro! I’m here.
Hey, Figaro! I’m here.
Figaro here, Figaro there,
Figaro up, Figaro down,
Swifter and swifter I’m like a spark:
I’m the handyman of the city.
Ah, bravo Figaro! Bravo, very good;
Fortunately for you I will not fail.