The Mandolin Aria

One of the other operas that have a mandoline “serenading aria” that is sometimes still performed is the Giovanni Paisiello version of Il Barbieri di Siviglia. That opera is of course most performed in the version of Rossini. Though Rossini’s version originally didn’t supercede its predecessors popularity, it became predominant over time. Needless to say that I’m not against Rossini’s version of the opera or the way he wrote his serenade – but no-one can blame me for having a personal favoritism for the Paisiello version in full as well as the mandolin serenade in particular. I’m glad it occsionally gets some limelight as it sheds light on some aspects of 18th century opera and is generally very enjoyable.

Paisiello’s aria is a typical canzonetta and is (almost certainly) for the Neapolitan mandolin, which is quite different from the Mozart aria which is (almost certainly) for Milanese or Lombardian mandolin. (For those who have missed that fact, I will most likely share some thoughts about Mozart’s mandolin aria in a separate blog post.)

If you haven’t already heard the refreshing music of Paisiello… make sure to check it on Youtube – I’ve included a link to a decent version.

Saper Bramate

The text is the typical sweetening poetry – fully in line with the main character who tries to convince his beloved to choose him (the count is in disguise as a student, so his beloved would choose him because of love rather than his wealth). This is a good example of the commedia dell’arte style of the storyline – with rather grotesque characters.

The opera was written by Paisiello during his stay at the court of Catherine II in Saint-Petersbourgh. The libretto is based on the play Le barbier de Séville by Pierre-Augustin de Beaumarchais. The full title reads “Il barbiere di Siviglia, ovvero La precauzione inutile” (the barber of Seville, or the useless precautions) – and it’s a rather typical comic opera for its time. The premiere in Russia was on 1782, but in the year after his home-town Naples followed, and soon the opera spread all over Europe. It stands to reason that the main reason for Mozart to include a mandolin aria in his Don Giovanni is the unrivalled success of the Paisiello opera.

The aria has enjoyed some life of its own accord outside of the opera, after the usage of it as part of the film music by Stanley Kubrick in Barry Lyndon. The music is instrumental in this case – and it was used in the scenes where Barry is cheating at cards.

Barry Lyndon music

Lyrics (and very free translation – any native speakers are invited to improve this 😉 ):

Saper bramate bella il mio nome ecco ascoltate ve lo diro
io son Lindoro di basso stato nè alcun tesoro darvi potro
ma sempre fido, ogni mattina
a voi mie pene, cara Rosina, col cuor su’ labbri vi cantero
If you yearn to learn my name, beaty, listen and I will tell,
I’m Lindoro of low status
without a single treasure to share,
Every morning, I will sing to you about my sufferings, singing with my hearth on my lips.

Speaking for myself, I really enjoy this little serenade, both musically and theatrically it really adds a lot to the opera. Of course, it’s not the most impressive piece of music by the count – just a simple serenading canzonetta – but it fits its purpose in the opera and the mandoline accompaniment is really nicely written.

I hope this post will get some people to think twice about the mandolin aria / serenade as well as bringing this subgenre to the attention of some opera lovers. 🙂 Enjoy!