Welsh National Opera’s Autumn 2021 Season features one of opera’s most recognisable tunes that we feel sure you will know. Largo al factotum (also known as Figaro’s Aria) from Rossini’s The Barber of Sevilletranslates as ‘Make way for the factotum’. The term ‘factotum’ comes from Latin and refers to a general servant where it literally means ‘do everything’. The aria is sung during the first entrance of the title character; it’s a major comedy point within the story and acts as a distraction while Figaro’s boss woos his beloved Rosina behind the back of her guardian Dr Bartolo (who wants her for himself).
The basis of the aria is Figaro telling us how important he is – how all of the men, women and children come to him and how much he enjoys his job and life. He describes himself as a barber of quality, brave, lucky and ready for anything.
The repeated ‘Figaro’s before the final patter section are an icon in popular culture of operatic singing. It’s actually noted as one of the most difficult arias for a baritone to perform due to both the tempo and the tongue-twisting lines of Italian superlatives.
But where have you heard it before?
In recent years, the piece has been used to advertise olive oil on UK television and was sung by a hopeful singer in the Britain’s Got Talent auditions. Going back to childhood, you may remember Bugs Bunny as The Rabbit of Seville where he gave his nemesis Elmer Fudd a fruity haircut; the aria also appears in cartoons featuring Woody Woodpecker, Porky the Pig and Tom & Jerry. If you’re a film fan you possibly heard Robin Williams including sections in the lively opening of Mrs Doubtfire, or saw Walter Matthau using the aria to educate a border guard on the differences between Mozart and Rossini in Hopscotch, and maybe you even witnessed Buck the Weasel’s rendition in Ice Age. On the small screen, Seinfeld, The Simpsons (Homer of Seville) and Family Guy have all used the music in episodes and the repeated Figaro, Figaro, Figaro calls also featured in a Harry Enfield and Chums sketch referring to opera. Singer Mika also confirmed that the tune of his 2007 single Grace Kelly was based on Largo al Factotum.
While this aria is only one small part of the opera, it highlights Figaro’s lust for life, and epitomises the sheer joy of The Barber of Seville as a whole.