Mar 28, 2019

Stage Director’s Notes: The Barber of Seville

Stage Director’s Notes: The Barber of Seville

By Alain Gauthier


‘’What on earth is all this love which makes everyone go mad?’’

– Berta’s Aria, Act II


Berta’s commentary summarizes perfectly the whole atmosphere of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, one of the most beloved works in the repertoire. Nothing in this opera goes the way it should be (just like every good comedy, no?) and the intrigue is, on purpose, jubilantly entangled and crazy.

The challenge with directing this opera is to make sense out of the inextricable chaos originally created in 1775 for the theatre by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, son of a clockmaker. Beaumarchais was also a clockmaker prior to becoming one of the greatest writers of his time. And one must admit that it helps to have a watchmaking mind (not to mention a twisted one!) to imagine such an intricate plot, for under this apparent chaos lurks the mechanisms of relentless clockwork.

For me, comedy is like a clock mechanism. It has to be very precise to work. My goal when directing a piece like The Barber of Seville is to make sure that all the elements of this mechanism work perfectly together. In the opera version of this story, the music adds an even more accurate degree of preciseness. One of my tasks is to try to illustrate visually how this crazy machine works and how it affects the characters on stage. Maybe Rossini, with his notorious sense of humour, deliberately alluded to Beaumarchais’ clock-making background when he wrote the brilliantly silly finale of the first act where the orchestra and the singers seem to imitate the sound of a screwy clock!

Supported by a genius libretto, the opera is filled with bewildering, dazzling, and inventive music. What’s more, the arias and ensemble appear to be packed with a kind of humorous craziness. In The Barber of Seville, madness is contagious, and the common disease making all the characters go a little crazy seems to be love.

As a starting point of many classic comedies, love (ideally an impossible one) leads the action. Here, the ardent and youthful Almaviva falls for the sparkling Rosina, unapproachable pupil of Doctor Bartolo. We witness, throughout this joyful adventure, a passionate love obstructed, of course, by countless difficulties. And it’s precisely those obstacles, brilliantly orchestrated by Rossini, that make this opera such a thrilling piece of art.

In this world completely disturbed by love, Figaro alone seems to be sane. Adept at managing the craziness, he takes an amused look at those disrupted characters. With our barber’s lucidity, combined with his wit, and his obvious excitement for handling this craziness, he becomes the audience’s accomplice and turns out to be our guide throughout this crazy journey.

The Barber of Seville’s energetic music and witty plot has no other purpose than to charm you and make you laugh. In this same candid and unpretentious way, we’ll try to give life to this masterpiece, hoping  – if it’s not already happened – to make you mad about Rossini!

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