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Deconstructing Figaro

Ryan Taylor as Figaro
© The Minnesota Opera, 2001

It's the most famous aria in the world. Everybody knows it - but not everybody knows what it's about. So we called in the experts from the Minnesota Opera's production of The Barber of Seville. Listen to baritone Ryan Taylor and conductor Emmanuel Plasson as they join MPR's John Birge to deconstruct Figaro.


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"Largo al Factotum"
From Gioacchino Rossini's The Barber of Seville

Ryan Taylor: Figaro is the barber of Seville. He calls from off stage just to let people know that he's on the way - the first three times that you hear him say, "Tra la la lera." ...

John Birge: And those words mean... "Tra la la lera"?

RT: They do. (laughing) In translation, effectively, "Tra la la lera."

Largo al factotum della città!
Presto a bottega che l'alba e già!
Ah, che bel vivere, che bel piacere
per un barbiere di qualità!

Make way for the best man in this city!
Hurrying to his shop, now that it's morning!
Ah, isn't life good, how pleasant it is
For a barber of quality!

JB: So the name of the aria is "Largo al Factotum." So that's literally, "Make room for the factotum."

RT: "Make way for me." That's an interesting word, factotum, that he sings in the first line. He's a busy-body, a go-between. He takes care of details, anything from medicines to shaves, styling wigs...

JB: A barber, really, in the old-fashioned sense of what barbers used to do.

RT: Right, right. But he also prides himself in being somewhat of a phrase-turner, a people person, putting people together, matching them up. He's a busy-body.

Ah, bravo Figaro!
Bravo, bravissimo!
Fortunatissimo per verità!
Pronto a far tutto, la notte e il giorno,
sempre d'intorno in giro sta.
Miglior cuccagna per un barbiere,
vita pi nobile, no, non si dà.

Rasori e pettini,
lancette e forbici,
al mio comando
tutto qui sta.
V'e la risorsa, poi, de mestiere
colla donnetta... col cavaliere...
colla donnetta...
col cavaliere...
Ah, che bel vivere, che bel piacere
per un barbiere di qualità!

Ah, hooray for Figaro!
Bravo, bravissimo!
How fortunate to be so lucky!
Ready for anything, night and day,
Always busy and aware of everything.
A better lot for a barber,
a better life, cannot be found, no, not at all

Razors and combs,
Lancets and scissors,
At my command
Are all here.
And there are extras, then, for the business
With the ladies....with the gentlemen
With the ladies...
With the gentlemen...
Ah, isn't life good, how pleasant it is
For a barber of quality!

Colla donnetta, col cavaliere...
© The Minnesota Opera, 2001

RT: These are just townsfolk. They need help from him: they need wigs, they need a shave, they need a note passed to someone in a different house. So, in this particular section, there's a young lady who's come to purchase a wig, and a soldier who's come because his hat is falling apart and he needs Figaro to fix the hat. ...

Colla donetta is "first with the women," and that's when he's speaking to the young lady who's come for her wig. And then he turns to the soldier and says, "and then with the soldier... everyone needs Figaro."

JB: Is that really true in the story ...? Is he inserting himself into people's lives, or are people asking him to come in?

RT: This is a really cocky piece of the character. And I think he's come to a point where he realizes that he really is needed. If we don't believe that, then there's not much point to the story. (laughing)

Tutti mi chiedono, tutti mi vogliono,
donne, ragazzi,
vecchi, fanciulle:
Qua la parruca... Presto la barba...
Qua la sanguigna... Presto il biglietto...

Figaro... Figaro... Figaro... Figaro... Figaro!
Ahime, che furia!
Ahime, che folla!
Uno alla volta, per carit!

Everyone asks for me, everyone wants me
Women, young people,
old people, the blonde young ladies:
What about the wig... a quick shave...
Some leeches for bleeding... Quick, the bill...

Figaro... Figaro... Figaro... Figaro... Figaro!
Heavens, heavens, what chaos!
Heavens, what crowds!
One at a time, for pity's sake!

JB: And so we've come to the most famous moment of the most famous aria...


A wanted man
© The Minnesota Opera, 2001

RT: Figaro is directly addressing the audience. He says, "Young men and ladies come to call me. Old people and children. Everyone needs something from me."

And when you actually hear him calling his own name ... he is imitating the voices of the people around him that are constantly calling to him for help.

JB: He's giving an inventory of all off the things people want from him, and when you come to this point ... it's "Enough, already!"

RT: Right. And I think it's said in a rather jovial, joking tone. He says, "What a fury!" you know, "Gracious me! One a time, one at a time. Get back!" And I think he really likes the attention.

JB: He loves it.

RT: Yes, he does.

Figaro! Son qua.
Ehi, Figaro! Son qua.
Figaro qua, Figaro là,
Figaro su, Figaro giù.
Pronto prontissimo son come il fulmine,
sono il factotum della città!
Ah, bravo Figaro!
Bravo, bravissimo;
a te fortuna non mancherà.

Figaro! Here I am.
Eh, Figaro! Here I am.
Figaro here, Figaro there,
Figaro up, Figaro down.
Quicker and quicker the sparks fly with me,
Because I am the best man in this city!
Ah, bravo Figaro!
Bravo, bravissimo;
From you luck will never leave.

JB: The language is incredible here. It sounds like one huge Italian tongue twister.

RT: The Italians have a knack of pronouncing most of their words right up in the front of their mouth with the tip of the tongue. ... Once you get ball rolling, it's pretty easy to stay there.

And as we approach the home stretch, he basically says, "It's very fortunate to be me. The last two pages here, he says, "Bravo to me! It is so fortunate to be who I am."

Translation help courtesy of Melodylane.net.

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