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Set in Seville

17 April 2020

The plague, consumption and tuberculosis are grand plot twists that are rife in opera and not so much in the real world, however 2020 has decided to mix things up with a world-wide global pandemic that quite frankly belongs on stage. With this in mind we don’t blame you if you are stuck at home dreaming of hot, balmy evenings filled with tapas and sangria; we’re with you - cancelled holidays and grounded flights mean that these dreamy destinations seem even further away than ever.

Seville, the city of opera, is one such place where composers such as Rossini, Mozart, Beethoven and Bizet have set their operas for centuries. The romantic balconies, garden pavilions and moonlit woods are a superb backdrop for wooing as Figaro shows in The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. Similarly, in Don Giovanni, the sumptuous surroundings make the perfect romping ground for seducers. There are bejewelled  ballrooms, palace gardens, and mysterious courtyards; it really wouldn't be the same if it was set in the local village hall in rainy England.

Bizet clearly also thought so setting his Carmen in Seville; where better than a tobacco factory to spark a fiery affair? Carmen’s steamy romances need the passion and grit of the bullring not only to foreshadow her death but to make her violent end seem more palpable. It can be key to the story or as in Beethoven's Fidelio, the setting of the warm Spanish climate increases the contrast from the freedom of sunshine in the prison yard to the dark dungeons below; making being captive all the more gloomy and providing the bittersweet aria, ‘Leb wohl, du warmes Sonnenlicht- Farewell, you warm sunshine’.

Although, we admit it's not all romanticism and whimsical exoticism; there were more practical reasons such as local censorship. Beethoven had to set Fidelio in Spain because the Austrian government censors would not have been happy with a story about a tyrannical nobleman set in Northern Europe. Likewise with The Marriage of Figaro; Mozart would have never been allowed to put on an opera about a French commoner who outwits a scheming French nobleman, so he had to set it in Spain.

Escapism is even more vital now than ever in our current climate of lockdown but you can still listen to The Marriage of Figaro Overture, close your eyes and float away to sunny Seville in your mind. Maybe when this is all over you can go to Seville and see the old cigarette factory which still stands today where Carmen was set and wander the grounds with Bizet in your ears.

Until then, ‘farewell, you warm sunshine…’