Because We So Rarely Get the Chance
Take the opportunity today to celebrate the effusive genius of Gioachino Rossini, who would be marking his 53rd birthday* had he lived. It's amazing that after all this time, the full scope and nature of his achievement is still seeping its way into the general consciousness — the extraordinary grandeur and depth of his serious operas (Guillaume Tell above all), the inventive pizzazz of his comedies, and the way he established a template for Italian opera that stood as a formal reference point for nearly a century.
Still, for all its familiarity, the Act 2 trio from Barbiere remains one of my favorite moments in all of Rossinidom, because of the ingenious way Rossini uses operatic practice itself as an element of comedy. The laughs in this scene come from the tugging of musical form — i.e., the requirement that melodic phrases be repeated and musical paragraphs be rounded off in full — against the characters' need to make a quick escape fer chrissake. Mozart does something a little similar in the Act 3 sextet of Figaro, but the workings there are so subtle that it takes the brilliance of Charles Rosen to explicate them.
Rossini's jape is much more straightforward, and when it's well staged (almost but not quite in this clip, unfortunately) this can have you doubled over in laughter. It's also, parenthetically, a clear precursor to the "Yes but you don't go!" joke near the end of The Pirates of Penzance — a work that is equally appropriate for today.
* Yes, 53rd. If you see anyone telling you 55, know that they're doing the math ((2012 — 1792)/4) without accounting for externalities. Tell them to say hello to your little friend Pope Gregory XIII, whose namesake invention denied Rossini a birthday in 1800 (during his lifetime, no less!) and again in 1900.