Beaumarchais in Seville by Hugh Thomas - review by Michael Jacobs

Michael Jacobs

Sketches of Spain

Beaumarchais in Seville


Yale University Press 177pp £16

‘But Beaumarchais was never in Seville!’ asserts Hugh Thomas at the beginning of his study of the author whose Sevillian-based plays inspired, among other works, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and Rossini’s Barber of Seville. Thomas points out that Bizet was not there either, and nor was Verdi or Beethoven, both of whom also set operas in this part of Andalusia. He could have mentioned numerous other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers and musicians whose visions of southern Spain were no less imaginary, for instance Victor Hugo, who did much to establish the legendary status of Granada’s Alhambra without ever having been there himself.

‘Spain’, wrote Beaumarchais’s contemporary Voltaire, ‘is a country which we know no better than the wildest parts of Africa, and which does not merit being better known.’ Increasingly cut off from the rest of Europe in the wake of its own political and economic decline in the early seventeenth century,

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