Realizing Rosina: Operatic Characterizations of Beaumarchais's Heroine

By Lister, Linda | Journal of Singing, September/October 2012 | Go to article overview

Realizing Rosina: Operatic Characterizations of Beaumarchais's Heroine


Lister, Linda, Journal of Singing


THE BARBER OF SEVILLE AND THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO are two of the most frequently performed operas in the repertory. Yet some fail to realize that the Rosina in Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia is the same character as the Countess in Mozart's equally renowned Le nozze di Figaro. Furthermore, still fewer operagoers seem aware that the Countess Almaviva, who is wronged by the Count's infidelity, eventually herself commits adultery with Cherubino and subsequently bears his child. This study will explore and contrast different musical realizations of the character of Rosina from the Figaro trilogy by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799); thus, a brief overview of the plays is provided as a frame of reference and a springboard for character development. More than forty operas have been written that are derived from the Beaumarchais trilogy or its characters, but this study is limited to the consideration of five operas. These works have been selected on the basis of their significance both musically and historically. Most importantly, these five operas have been chosen because of their insights into the character of Rosina.

ROSINE IN BEAUMARCHAIS'S TRILOGY

Rosine is the female protagonist in the Beaumarchais's Figaro triptych. (Her French name is used here to distinguish from later operatic Rosinas.) She is the ingénue as well as the only leading female character in the opening comedy, Le barbier de Séville, ou la précaution inutile (1775). In La folle journée, ou le mariage de Figaro (1784), the soubrette Suzanne joins the roster of female roles and supplants Rosine as the ingénue. As the Comtesse Almaviva, Rosine becomes the leading lady in the second play and remains so in the trilogy's conclusion, La mère coupable, ou l'autre Tartuffe (1792).

Rosine's prototype seems to be Isabella, the young heroine from the commedia dell'arte tradition. The clever ruses that Rosine utilizes throughout Le barbier de Séville might make her resemble the Italian soubrette Colombine. Rosine, however, is of noble birth; she does not fit the station of serving maid to which Colombine is usually relegated. In addition, Rosine possesses elements of innocence and purity associated with the leading lady Isabella. Despite these debts to theatrical tradition, Beaumarchais's Rosine does not remain a stock character. A long-suffering orphan confined in the home of her controlling guardian Dr. Bartholo, Rosine reveals no shortage of spunk. The question may then arise: is Rosine really an innocent ingénue or a crafty coquette?1

From her initial appearance onstage, Rosine demonstrates cunning and quick thinking, specifically the ability to improvise her way out of difficult situations. The redeeming quality of Rosine is spontaneity resulting from an absence of calculation.2 Her ruses are not elaborately planned deceptions; instead they arise from the immediate need of a given situation. Beaumarchais justifies her exploits as the result of a noble motivation, which, of course, is love. She wants to outwit Bartholo, not merely to escape his imprisonment, but to gain access to the affection of the Count.

In Le mariage de Figaro we find Rosine has become the Countess Almaviva. More has changed than her title and marital status; a distinct change in her character is evident as well. Although she is still beautiful and virtuous, she has neither the vivaciousness nor freshness of youth; in three years she seems to have aged quickly, languishing in a constant state of melancholy.3 The cause of Rosine's condition is the waning romantic interest of her husband. Essentially the Count has abandoned her emotionally. He seems more interested in exercising the droit du seigneur, a feudal privilege granting him the right to bed his wife's maid Suzanne on the eve of her wedding to Figaro. Due to her abandonment, Rosine seems again imprisoned. Although she has escaped the seclusion Bartholo forced upon her in Barbier, she is isolated in a similar way by the Count in Figaro. …

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