A Glimpse into the Figaro Trilogy

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A Glimpse into the Figaro Trilogy

The Barber of Seville and the adventures of Figaro

Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro frequently appear on lists of the top 10 most performed operas in the world. The works share many of the same characters and music from these operas is often misattributed to each other. In fact, these two Italian opera buffa (comic operas) are actually based upon the first two parts of a trilogy of plays. How well do you know the story of Figaro? Join us as we take a glimpse into the Figaro Trilogy.

The Trilogy

The Barber of Seville
Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais

The Figaro Trilogy was released between 1775-1792 by French playwright and jack-of-all-trades Pierre Beaumarchais. It is comprised of Le Barbier de Séville (The Barber of Seville), Le Mariage de Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), and La Mère coupable (The Guilty Mother). The plays revolve around the romantic capers of the resourceful servant Figaro, the aristocratic Count Almaviva, and a colourful cast of recurring characters. Simple cleverness and resourcefulness allows commoners such as Figaro and aristocrats such as Count Almaviva to interact on even terms. As a result, Beaumarchais` plays became exceedingly popular in Revolutionary France and subsequently received adaptations into popular operas.

The Barber of Seville

The Barber of Seville in pop culture
The Barber of Seville (Pacific Opera Victoria, 2016). Photography by David Cooper.

In the first story, The Barber of Seville, the town barber Figaro aides his former employer, the Count Almaviva, in a scheme to court the beautiful Rosina (Rosine in the original play). However, Rosina is betrothed to her lecherous guardian Doctor Bartolo.

Rossini was not the first to adapt The Barber of Seville when it debuted in 1816.  Giovanni Paisiello had already composed a popular version in 1782, a fact that caused Rossini to initially title his opera Almaviva, The Useless Precaution. Paisiello`s fans raised an uproar at Rossini`s opening, but Rossini`s version soon won out to become the favoured adaptation.

The Marriage of Figaro

The Marriage of Figaro
The Marriage of Figaro (Vancouver Opera, 2017). Photography by Tim Matheson.

The Marriage of Figaro revisits the characters of the first story with even more manipulation, scheming, and comedy. Figaro has returned to the Count Almaviva`s employ. Unfortunately, the Count now aims to use his aristocratic privilege to seduce and sleep with Figaro’s betrothed  Countess Rosina`s servant Susanna. Hijinks ensue when Figaro, Susanna, and Rosina conspire to expose Almaviva`s plans. Beaumarchais` initial play was banned by the Austrian censors for its treatment of the upper crust. Luckily for Mozart, his librettist managed to get an operatic version approved for the German public, which debuted two years later in 1786 and has since dominated the Italian opera repertoire.

The Guilty Mother

Mireille Lebel as Cherubino and Leslie Ann Bradley as Countess Almaviva in Vancouver Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro (2017). Photography by Tim Matheson.

The third story, The Guilty Mother, was first published in 1793 and takes place twenty years after the previous two installments. In it, Count Amaviva and the Countess Rosina struggle to come to terms with the fruits from their mutual infidelity. Meanwhile, Figaro and Susanna scheme to save the Count`s daughter Florestine from a forced marriage to the conniving Bégears. This final installment to the Figaro trilogy is seldom performed, and was only adapted into an opera in 1966 by Darius Milhaud.

Outrageously Funny

In their time, the Figaro plays (and their operatic adaptations) were considered scandalous. Figaro – a commoner – often speaks quite plainly to the Count and Almavivia marries Rosina, a commoner. Censors and aristocrats alike were outraged at what they saw as an affront to the established social order of the time. However, as forward-thinking and educated minds began to reconsider social convention all over Europe, revolutionary literature gained a passionate following. The Figaro trilogy allowed the public to glimpse into a lighthearted fiction where the little guy always came out on top due to his resourcefulness and cunning. Thanks to lively characters, hilarious machinations, and unforgettable music, these stories now stand among the most beloved rom-coms of all time.

Curious about The Barber of Seville`s lasting impression on pop culture? Take a stroll down memory lane with Rossini’s timeless tunes and watch our selection of the most hilariously memorable tributes to The Barber!

There is still time to share the magic of Barber with your family and friends.

Season subscribers get 10% off additional single tickets.
Tickets start at $50. Prices go up January 31.

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The Barber of Seville
Four performances only:

Feb 13, 15, 20, 23(M)
at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre