Count Almaviva has come to Seville to woo Rosina, but incognito, to be sure that she loves him for himself and not for his title. But Rosina’s guardian, the old doctor Bartolo, plans to marry her himself as soon as she comes of age tomorrow, and is keeping her carefully shut up in his house until then. The Count needs to find a way into the house so that he can do his courting before it’s too late. And that means he needs a barber…
The Barber of Seville, the comic masterpiece by composer Gioachino Rossini and librettist Cesare Sterbini, was a flop when it premiered at Rome in 1816, but thereafter its popularity stood the test of two centuries. One thing it doesn’t feature, more often than not, is a spanking scene, but a minority of productions remedy that omission very satisfactorily after Figaro, the wily local barber, visits Rosina as the Count’s go-between. She gives him a letter for her admirer, but Bartolo discovers that she has written it: her fingers are inky and there is a sheet of paper missing. Rosina tries to make excuses, provoking an aria from Bartolo, ‘Un dottore della mia sorte’ (A doctor of my calibre), telling her not to try pulling the wool over his eyes. And from time to time she also provokes…
Before we start talking about this, you should probably know that the Count does get the girl in the end, snatching her almost from under Bartolo’s nose. Go see the opera if you get the chance: it’s joyous, funny and life-affirming, and if you’re lucky there may be a spanking scene too!
Just how and when did spanking first get into The Barber of Seville? It’s impossible to say, and the earliest photographic evidence comes from a production as recent as 2009. More and earlier pictures will hopefully be discovered, but in the meantime here’s Robert Aaron Taylor spanking Lisa Lombardy at the Rimrock Opera Foundation in Montana:
However, we also know from a review that Jennifer Rivera…
… was spanked ‘with plenty of enthusiasm’ by Stefano de Peppo at Tampa Opera in 2008. And what’s more, the 2009 Rimrock production was a tenth-anniversary restaging of their inaugural show of 1999. Did that feature the spanking too? To show that business does indeed carry over when the same company mounts a new production of the same opera, let’s return to Wichita Grand Opera, this time for the 2009 production with Joyce DiDonato as Rosina:
There’s another carry-over there, too. The production’s Bartolo was none other than Stefano de Peppo, who sang the role and spanked the Rosina at Tampa the year before. Some singers specialize in particular parts, which means some get to do the spanking frequently during their careers. And that Wichita production has an even better example than de Peppo, because Joyce DiDonato is the doyenne of Rosinas: she has played the character thousands of times around the world, sometimes spanked and sometimes not, depending on the production. She has even done it in a wheelchair after she broke her leg onstage.
Luckily for her, that was in a production that didn’t include the spanking, but rest assured we will be seeing more of her in due time.
The spanking of Rosina is business that has had time to become traditional, and to invite different realizations from production to production: the fact that it’s widespread, cropping up all over Europe and North America, shows that it’s not a very recent innovation, and so does the variety in the way it’s done. Sometimes it’s straightforward OTK, as in the 2013 production at the University of Tennessee, in which Dallas Noelle Norton was spanked – according to her, for ‘a good two minutes’ in each performance – by both Kevin Richard Doherty…
and by Aaron Dunn:
But sometimes it’s SLB rather than OTK, as witness this 2013 production by Opera Samara in Russia:
Sometimes she has to bend over for a caning, as Pretty Yende did at the Norwegian Opera in 2014:
And sometimes the OTK technique can be a little unusual. Here’s Bartolo preparing for action at Knoxville Opera in 2010:
It looks conventional enough, but what follows seems more like playing bongo drums than spanking:
But it seems effective: Leah Wool’s Rosina certainly seems to have a sore bottom to tend!
In fact, they seem to have tried out something similar in the rehearsals for that University of Tennessee production starring Dallas Noelle Norton:
That picture leads me to another topic. The productions we have been looking at so far are all relatively ‘trad’, but they all reflect the tendency of modern opera towards lighter, less elaborate costumes, rather than the heavily tailored and corseted look of the classic style. This certainly encourages the inclusion of a spanking scene by simplifying the physical process involved. But modern dress helps even more:
That’s Alessia Martino being spanked in the 2015 production by Italy’s LTL Opera Studio, which was set in a curious but effective mixture of periods, partly the eighteenth century and partly the 1950s: jealous Bartolo wears a yellow frock coat and frills from the earlier period, and Rosina an A-line frock and frills from the later.
As is often the case with opera, the production was double-cast, with both Diego Savini and Davide Franceschini as Bartolo, and Alessia Martino alternating Rosina with Laura Verrecchia. (They are all represented in these photos.)
It was a good production from our point of view: not content with spanking Rosina, Bartolo also gives her governess Berta (Lucia Conte and Simona Marzilli) a smacked bottom straight afterwards!
The production’s trailer includes snippets of both the spanking and smacking:
If you want to see a Rosina who’s not saved by the production’s concern to keep a complicated frock intact, look no further than the Berlin Opera:
The Barber opened there in 2009 and ran initially for three years with several subsequent revivals and a larger than usual turnover of casts. The Bartolo here is Maurizio Muraro, and he’s spanking Amira Almadfa’s Rosina:
You’ll have noticed that Rosina’s dress even fails to protect her from a central European style skirt-raising. Time for a closer look, first at a 2010 performance with Carlos Chausson as Bartolo and Rosina played by Joyce DiDonato. Well, I did promise you we’d see more of her:
And here’s the trailer, with an alternative angle on Jana Kurucova’s Rosina:
Conversely, modern dress is never a guarantee of an excellent OTK spanking. There’s a rather different take on the staging in the version presented by Moscow’s Stanislavski Music Theater, which opened in 2010 and is represented here in a 2014 performance with Roman Ulybin as Bartolo and Veronika Vyatkina as Rosina:
The Moscow Times called this ‘a rather lascivious spanking’.
I don’t call it technically a spanking at all, nor even much of a whacking, even though he keeps her lying there for more than a minute.
But so as not to end on a disappointing note, and to see a much better use of a minute, let’s revisit the 2014 English-language production at Wichita Grand Opera, and watch the lovely Sharin Apostolou get spanked. By mainstream standards it’s quite an epic, and since Sharin is not only an excellent singer and a very pretty girl, but also a fine comic actress, this one repays watching the whole scene, buildup and all:
‘You call that a spanking?‘ she ad libs defiantly. I’ll say I do. And an outstanding one it is too!