Revisiting The Barber of Seville is like spending time with an old friend. In my 20s, I worked on many Rossini operas and spent several summers as an assistant director at the famous Rossini Festival in his birthplace, Pesaro, Italy. Pesaro is a seaside town on the Adriatic, the un-chic side of Italy. There is a tiny theater, as well as a few alternate venues. Back then, the noted Rossini scholar, Philip Gossett, was editing and reissuing Rossini’s scores. I came to learn all his obscure works by spending hours in the Foundation library pouring over these manuscripts. As an assistant director, my job was to work alongside the directors. It was a memorable time, with many fine Italian and American singers performing.
In short order, I was fortunate to be offered one of my very first solo directing jobs, doing my own new production of — coincidentally — The Barber of Seville, in, of all places, Reykjavík, for the Icelandic National Opera. And the opera was to be sung in Icelandic! But at that point, I didn’t care; it was my own new production. Since then, I have gone on to direct Barber in several different productions, and it is an opera that I am always happy to return to.
This production will be taking you back to a world inspired by the 18th-century Italian dramatist, Carlo Goldoni, with Venetian-style paintings and a commedia dell’arte aspect. I was inspired by the simple and direct world of these archetypal characters along with the genius of the delicious Beaumarchais play that inspired the opera. His writing and Rossini’s music make for a situational comedy with a revolutionary underpinning.
– Stage Director Francesca Zambello
A Revolutionary Playwright
Watchmaker, harp teacher, playwright, spy – Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was something of a general factotum himself. Today operagoers know him as the man who gave us Figaro (and friends) in a trilogy of plays. Le Barbier de Séville (The Barber of Seville), the first, is a light-hearted comedy in which two young people, inspired by love, conspire against those who would prevent them from being together. In the second, La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day, or The Marriage of Figaro), the high-spirited conspirators of Barber have lost their common cause – and are in danger of losing their youthful affection and regard for one another. The second play in Beaumarchais’ “Figaro Trilogy” has more of a political edge, which is even more pronounced in the work that follows: L’Autre Tartuffe, ou La Mère Coupable (The Other Tartuffe, or The Guilty Mother).
Pierre-Augustin Caron is born in Paris.
The first volumes of the Encyclopédie, edited by Denis Diderot, are produced in France; its stated aim is to “change the way people think.”
Caron invents a new escapement for watches; the following year he is commissioned by Louis XV to create a watch mounted on a ring for Madame de Pompadour.
Mozart is born.
Caron takes the name Beaumarchais from property belonging to his wife.
Beaumarchais becomes music teacher to the daughters of Louis XV.
Voltaire writes Candide.
Beaumarchais buys a royal title.
Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, the first of his “reform” operas, premieres in Vienna; the Paris premiere will follow twelve years later.
Beaumarchais’ first dramatic play, Eugénie, premieres at the Comédie Francaise.
American colonists destroy a shipment of tea from the British East India Company in the Boston Harbor.
Beaumarchais works as a secret agent in London.
The Barber of Seville premieres as a five-act play and is not well received; the four-act version that follows is a success.
The American War of Independence begins.
Beaumarchais is entrusted by the government to send aid to the American rebels against the English.
Volume I of Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is published.
Beaumarchais purchases rights to publish the complete works of Voltaire, putting out 70 volumes between 1783-1790.
Paisiello and Petrosello’s opera based on The Barber of Seville premieres in St. Petersburg.
The first performance of The Marriage of Figaro (play) is given at the Comedie Francaise; with the proceeds, Beaumarchais creates an institution for poor nursing mothers.
Mozart and Da Ponte produce an opera based on The Marriage of Figaro.
Beaumarchais and Salieri’s opera Tarare premieres in Paris.
In Paris, revolutionaries storm the Bastille.
A Mother’s Guilt premieres at the Théâtre du Marais; the titles “Count” and “Countess” are suppressed for the Almavivas.
Beaumarchais is entrusted with the purchase and transfer of 60,000 muskets stored in Holland, but arms suppliers have him arrested and imprisoned. Once he is freed, he flees to London, where he is jailed for debt.
Rossini is born.
Louis XVI is executed and the Reign of Terror begins.
Beaumarchais dies and is buried in the garden of his home.
Rossini’s Almaviva premieres; later that year, after Paisiello dies, it is retitled The Barber of Seville.
The remains of Beaumarchais are transferred to Père Lachaise cemetery.
“To appear always deeply concerned for the good of the State, yet to be concerned with nothing but self-interest; to assemble and say nothing; to pretend vast secrecy where there is nothing to conceal; to shut yourself up in your quarters, and mend your pen or pick your teeth while your servants inform the waiting crowd you are too busy to be approached – this, with the art of intercepting letters and excusing the poverty of means by the importance of the ends – this is the whole mystery of politics, or I am an idiot.” – Beaumarchais