Friday, 29 August 2008

Opera is good for the soul and humour for the heart

Patrick Comerford

For the past four weeks, Dublin City Council has been presenting “Opera in The Open 2008” – with a free outdoor event each Thursday lunchtime at 1 in the Amphitheatre between Christ Church Cathedral and the Civic Offices on Wood Quay.

During August, the programme included Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutti, Handel’s Alcina, and Puccini’s La Boheme, narrated by Ted Courtney, with David Wray as musical director and Anthony Norton as Director.

This week it was The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini. Opera is good for soul and humour is good for the heart, and The Barber of Seville is one of the most sparkling comedies in opera.

Workers, mothers with toddlers, tourists, foreign language students and local residents crowded around the amphitheatre steps, stood under the shade of the lime trees, and spread out their jackets and newspapers to laze on the grassy mound

The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution (Il barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L’inutile precauzione) is an opera buffa in two acts by Rossini with a libretto by Cesare Sterbini, and was first staged in Rome in 1816. The story is based on the first of the plays from the Figaro trilogy by the French playwright Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais … Mozart’s opera Le nozze di Figaro, composed 30 years earlier in 1786, is based on the second play in the Beaumarchais trilogy.

It took Rossini only three weeks to write The Barber of Seville, but he borrowed the famous overture from two of his earlier operas, Aureliano in Palmira and Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra.

It is hard to imagine how that the first performance of the Barber was a disaster for Rossini. The audience hissed and jeered throughout, and there were several on-stage accidents. But with its second performance, the opera became a roaring success.

The Barber takes place in Seville in 17th century Spain, where Count Almaviva disguises himself as a poor student, Lindoro, hoping to win the heart of the beautiful Rosina. Disguised as Lindoro, he hopes that the beautiful Rosina will love him for himself and not for his wealth and status.

The barber is the quick-witted Figaro, who is hired to assist Almaviva in Rosina’s hand. But her guardian, old Dr Bartolo, has other plans – he wants to marry her himself, and as the plot unfolds there are some hilarious and farcical twists and turns.

Figaro advises the Count to disguise himself as a soldier and to pretend to be drunk to gain entrance to Dr Bartolo’s house. He also asks Rosina to write a few encouraging words to Lindoro, although she has already written him such a letter. Disguised first as a drunken soldier, then as a singing tutor, The Count manages to get into the doctor’s house twice, but is thrown out on each occasion by Bartolo.

The old doctor then rushes to a notary to draw up a marriage contract between the doctor and Rosina. Meanwhile, Rosina feels betrayed and heartbroken. But when Almaviva returns to the house yet again, he reveals his true identity to Rosina. The two are reconciled and are married before Bartolo’s return, with Basilio the singing instructor and Figaro the Barber as their witnesses.

True love won out in the end. That may not be how life is all the time. But it was fun yesterday, even if it was over within an hour. And it was good for the heart and the soul.

“Opera in The Open 2008” ends its season next Thursday (4 September) with L’elisir D’amore by Donizetti.