The Barber's Wardrobe

3 August 2021
Figaro kneeling on stage with two puppets, Bag lady stood behind him

Rossini’s The Barber of Seville has been performed thousands of times around the world so you can image the wide and varying outfits that all the Figaro’s and Rosina’s have donned during this time since its conception in 1816. From Glyndebourne’s surreal Spain to the tattooed arms of Figaro in Théâtre des Champs-Élysées’ production; the different interpretations of Rossini’s masterpiece are endless. However, Welsh National Opera’s upcoming production sticks to the original style as isn’t a comic scene just that bit funnier if the perpetrator being gently mocked is wobbling around in a powdered wig? Complete with a stick on beauty spot that was ever so fashionable back in the day - unfortunately our Bartolo doesn’t quite pull it off as well as Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s infamous Marie Antoinette.

Although don't worry we don't have lead in our make-up as was so back in the day; face paint made with the poisonous metal was all the rage. Yes - even after they discovered you could die from it; the price of vanity was very high. If you think brows being big are a new thing this fashion actually started in the 18th century. They would use kohl, burnt cork, elderberry juice, or even, brace yourself, mice. The poor, little furry animals would be captured and turned into eyebrows. But don’t worry no animals were harmed in the making of WNO’s production.

It wasn't only your skirt that had a frame in the shape of a crinoline in the 1700s, but your hair could have a frame as well or a roll in it to make it to gravity-defying heights. With all the layers of garments that had to be put on it's no wonder the Count complains, ‘the servants in this house take longer to dress than their masters’ to which Figaro replies, ‘because they have no servants to assist them.’ Which sums up the masterful way in which Rossini shows the senselessness of the class divide.

The portraits we have from that time show the frills and the bows as well as the make-up, and of course the hair; the sheer ridiculousness of it showing the elite classes at their silliest could be why Rossini chose to set it in the 18th century. As Thomas Carlyle, the author of The French Revolution, said of the original play at the time: ‘All France runs with it, laughing applause.’ The best way to the audience's mind - laughter of course... and a great wig.