The great Italian baritone Mattia Battistini (1856-1928), dubbed the "King of the baritones" and undisputably one of the giants from the "Golden Age of Opera", in Figaro's aria 'Largo al factotum' from Act 1 of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The recording was made in 1902 for the Gramophone & Typewriter Company.
In his biography "Mattia Battistini: King of Baritones and Baritone of Kings", Jacques Chuilon has this to say about this particular recording (145-146):
"...in "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Barbiere, a warhorse for all baritones of the day, the ascent to the high G on "Là, là, là,là!" has become such common practice that no one would doubt its authenticity. We even regard it as a criterion for a great performance, and since Battistini does not do it, his reading is automatically deemed inferior. Another excellent opportunity to denounce the excessive liberties of golden-age singers!
Unfortunately, Battistini sings the passage as written (though it is seldom doneso). One might be taken aback by the ad libitum on "Tutti mi chiedono, tutti mi vogliono," though it would be hard to find greater fault with that indulgence than with others' more hackneyed touches. In other words, to criticize Battistini's liberties in this aria would wrongly imply that all the other variants to which we have become accustomed are obligatory.
Comparisons with the score reveal that Battistini avoids the higher variants here, even though he tends not to shy away from them in other pieces, to an extent that makes one wonder: did a concern for preserving tradition steer Battistini toward the variants of the earliest famous interpreters of the role, who were usually bass-baritones? Yet his version sounds much more roguish than the current norm, because the singers who succeeded him and with whom we are most familiar generally have a darker voice, even a "villainous"-sounding timbre. Who is closer to the spirit of the original? The coda's acceleration is dizzying, but not performed exactly according to today's procedure: Battistini glosses over the words, which gradually melt into a liquid flow. No doubt it is the effect intended by this kind of writing, in which meaning dissolves amid the repetitive, musical sound, becoming comic. The high G is brilliant, resonant, and unforced."
Watch videos with other singers performing Largo al factotum:
SCENA 2 Figaro, con la chitarra appesa al collo e detto, nascosto
N. 2 - Cavatina
FIGARO Largo al factotum della città. Presto a bottega, ché l'alba è già. Ah, che bel vivere, che bel piacere per un barbiere di qualità! Ah, bravo Figaro! Bravo, brayissimo; fortunatissimo per verità! Pronto a far tutto, la notte e il giorno sempre d'intorno, in giro sta. Miglior cuccagna per un barbiere, vita più nobile, no, non si dà. Rasori e pettini, lancette e forbici, al mio comando tutto qui sta. V'è la risorsa, poi, del mestiere colla donnetta col cavaliere Ah, che bel vivere, che bel piacere per un barbiere di qualità! Tutti mi chiedono, tutti mi vogliono, donne, ragazzi, vecchi, fanciulle: Qua la parrucca Presto la barba Qua la sanguigna Presto il biglietto Figaro ... Figaro Son qua, son qua. Figaro... Figaro... Eccomi qua. Ahimè, che furia! Ahimè, che folla! Una alla volta, per carità! 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.
English Libretto or Translation:
Figaro enters with a guitar around his neck
FIGARO La ran la le ra la ran la la. Make way for the factotum of the city. La ran la la, etc. Rushing to his shop for dawn is here. La ran la la, etc. What a merry life, what gay pleasures for a barber of quality. Ah, bravo Figaro, bravo, bravissimo, bravo! La ran la la, etc. Most fortunate of men, indeed you are! La ran la la, etc.
Ready for everything by night or by day, always in bustle, in constant motion. A better lot for a barber, a nobler life does not exist. La la ran la la ran la, etc.
Razors and combs, lancets and scissors, at my command everything's ready. Then there are "extras" part of my trade, business for ladies and cavaliers … La la ran la …la …la. Ah, what a merry life, what gay pleasures, for a barber of quality.
All call for me, all want me, ladies and children, old men and maidens. I need a wig, I want a shave, leeches to bleed me, here, take this note. All call for me, all want me. I need a wig, I want a shave, here, take this note. Ho, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, etc. Heavens! what a commotion! Heavens! What a crowd! One at a time, for pity's sake.
Ho, Figaro! - I am here! Figaro here, Figaro there, Figaro up. Figaro down. Quicker and quicker I go like greased lightning, make way for the factotum of the city,
Ah, bravo, Figaro, bravo, bravissimo, On you good fortune will always smile. La la ran la, etc. I am the factotum of the city.