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An opera based on the play had previously been composed by Giovanni Paisiello, and another was composed in 1796 by Nicolas Isouard. Though the work of Paisiello triumphed for a time, Rossini's later version alone has stood the test of time and continues to be a mainstay of operatic repertoire.
Rossini's opera follows the first of the plays from the Figaro trilogy, by French playwright Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, while Mozart's opera Le nozze di Figaro, composed 30 years earlier in 1786, is based on the second part of the Beaumarchais trilogy. The original Beaumarchais version was first performed in 1775, in Paris at the Comédie Française at the Tuileries Palace.
Rossini is well known for his fast work at composition, and true to his style, all the music for Il Barbiere di Siviglia was completed in under three weeks; though the famous overture was actually borrowed from two prior Rossini operas, Aureliano in Palmira and Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra. Barbiere's first performance on February 20, 1816 was a disastrous failure: the audience hissed and jeered throughout, and several on-stage accidents occurred. However, many of the audience were supporters of one of Rossini's rivals who played on "mob mentality" to provoke the rest of the audience to dislike the opera. The second performance met with quite a different fate, becoming a roaring success. It is curious to note that the original French play of Le Barbier de Séville endured a similar story, hated at first only to become a hit within a week.