The comic opera »The Barber of Seville« by Gioachino Rossini, which premiered in 1816, carries the subtitle »The Useless Precaution«, and that’s precisely what it’s all about. Avaricious old Dottore Bartolo tries to keep his ward Rosina at home in order to marry her himself to gain the rich dowry. But his plotting is in vain: In various disguises, and with the help of the barber Figaro, the young and much more desirable Count Almaviva melts the young woman’s heart. »The Barber of Seville« is Rossini’s most popular opera due to its virtuoso arias and fast-paced ensembles, false identities and chicanery, all of which are beautifully realised in Grischa Asagaroff’s funny production.
From today’s standpoint, one is hard-pressed to believe that the premiere performance of »The Barber of Seville« was a spectacular failure. Almost 200 years later, it has proven the most successful comic opera of all time, destined to be embraced by each and every opera-goer.
But initially, the premiere performance in February 1816 had to be postponed by two weeks for reasons of too many obstacles facing a Carnival-commissioned opera. This was compounded by those who doted on the rightfully-admired Giovanni Paisiello – composer of one of the earlier »Barber« operas – protesting that by tackling the same material, Rossini was an affront to their maestro. They overwhelmed the premiere with blatant dysphoria. There were also a number of on-stage mishaps – the anecdotes since having become legend: the strings of the on-stage guitar intended to provide musical accompaniment broke, a singer tripped and fell whilst making his entrance, earning sardonic applause for his efforts, and even a cat was to have appeared on stage during the finale, acting like a signal to the audience to start meowing.
But from the second performance onward, there was no holding back the success of »Barber«. Still today, the work captivates with its orchestral brilliance, virtuostic demands and of course scintillating wit. The libretto is based on the first piece in the »Figaro« trilogy, a popular comedy by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. »Barber« introduces us to all of Beaumarchais and Mozart’s figures who will again appear in »The Marriage of Figaro« as they begin to upset their established world and, in so doing, reawaken longings for the past.
Rosina, the »Figaro« countess, is still the ward of Dr. Bartolo and in great demand as a wife. On the one side is the distrustful and geriatric Bartolo who has his sights set on a young and rich bride. Rosina, however, wants nothing to do with the old tyrant. On the other side is wealthy Count Almaviva, disguised as poor student Lindoro, and who wins Rosina’s heart. Thanks to his accomplice, the wily barber, Almaviva – disguised as a substitute for the «ailing» music teacher Basilio – gains entrance into the house and thus close to his beloved. But her guardian has a few tricks up his sleeve and is nowhere near giving up his fight for the girl.
A wedding looms on the horizon. The bride is certain, but what of the groom? His identity is known only to those who have peeked into the future by way of Mozart’s opera.
Whilst Rossini is said to have reacted soberly to the fiasco of the premiere, the growing success of the work neither escaped him nor his critics. As he himself wrote: »My ›Barber‹ receives more and more acclaim every day and even the most vocal opponents of the new school are fawning all over it, the most defiant of chaps embracing it completely against their will. Almaviva’s serenade can be heard throughout the streets here every night; Figaro’s big aria ›Largo al factotum‹ is the pièce de résistance for all baritones and Rosina’s cavatina ›Una voce poco fà‹ is what everyone here goes to bed with so they’ll awaken with the words ›Lindoro mio sarà‹ on their lips in the morning.«
With this work Rossini ascended to the highest throne of buffo opera, where he still remains unseated today.
Set Design & Costume Design
Il Conte d'Almaviva
Men of the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden
Production of the Opera Zürich