Rumor Has It That Don Basilio Enjoys Petite Opera’s “Barber of Seville”

Jess Koehn, Don Basilio in Petite Opera’s production of “Barber of Seville”, discusses his character and thoughts on the opera with Executive Director, Susan Baushke.

Jess Koehn plays Don Basilio in
Petite Opera’s Barber of Seville
November 4-19
Tell me what you like about the character of Basilio?
What’s not to like? He’s a music teacher. It is fun to do a caricature of someone all artists are familiar with, and create a composite of them all formed into one being. He’s so nefarious, without being truly evil. Basilio loves to gossip and slander, but he can be bought. He’s not above ruining lives as long as the price is right. This character is fun to play because he is so different from me.

What do you think about this updated production without recitatives (replaced by dialogue)?
It has been much easier to learn. This version will appeal to modern audiences much more than with recitative. Opera goers in Rossini’s time were expected to be really familiar with the opera before they arrived, which is not the case today with audiences. Taking out the recitative makes it much easier to relate to the audience. It’s fun to change it up, give it a new spin and come at it from a different perspective.

Tell me about Basilio’s interpretations of his relationship with the other characters in the opera? For instance, what does he think of Bartolo?
Basilio is a hired gun. He’s Rosina’s music teacher, but he’ll work for anyone as long as the price is right. He knows Bartolo and Rosina, but doesn’t know Count Almaviva at all. So, he sells his services to the highest bidder, and his allegiance shifts to whomever has the biggest purse.

Don Basilio (Jess Koehn, right) describes to
Doctor Bartolo (Ivo Suarez, left) how to assassinate
Almaviva’s character through lies and slander

How would you compare and contrast Figaro and Basilio?

Figaro is a freelancer, but he’s more noble in his behavior; he has more scruples. Basilio enjoys ruining people, loves to gossip. He likes to see people squirm.

How are you portraying Basilio differently to achieve the setting in the early 1800s period versus 2017?
Basilio has a certain deference to Bartolo, and to the Count… deference to the class difference that we pretend doesn’t exist today. We have the division, of course, today. But then, class distinctions were recognized and respected then. Basilio’s love of gossip and rumor mongering is certainly found equally today as it was in the 17th century. But there was definitely a place for that type of gossip in the 17th century, that is not politically correct today. Plus, our communication is so much quicker today; in the 17th century, the gossip was the fastest moving communication.

Basilio is a professional musician and teacher, so he’s middle class, not a laborer or pauper. He associates with the nobility and the education of the nobility, but he isn’t accepted as nobility or on equal level. Perhaps his way of level setting is bringing down the nobility by rumor-mongering. It this way of growing his stature and self-respect.

What do you think about working for Petite Opera?
Don Basilio describes the shame that will come to Almaviva,
while Doctor Bartolo cowers at Basilio’s intensity.

It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve worked very quickly, on the show was on its feet in the third week of rehearsal, which is amazing. It is a ton of fun to be doing opera. I’ve been doing so much work as a chorister since coming to Chicago, it is great to be working at high level with professionals.

How would you describe this opera, concisely, to someone who has never seen it, why should they come see Petite Opera’s production?
This is really fun modernization of a classic by Rossini, one of the great opera composers of the 17th century. It’s in English, and so more accessible. The composer is actually a character in the opera, and he builds the opera before you eyes. You see the imagination of his creative process. Petite Opera is, by its very name, a smaller company, but it is very dynamic. The people are wonderful and engaging. And the story is timeless romantic comedy.

If you could go to dinner with any character in the show, as yourself, who would it be and why?
Figaro, definitely. He’s a barber… barbers dispensed medicine, did surgery, cut hair. He’s quick and thinks on his feet. He’s a fascinating, knowledgeable jack of all trades. He’s the title character. He would be fun to hang out with.


Tickets are $27 for Adults (ages 18-61), $25 for Seniors (age 62 and up)

$15 for Students (K through College, with ID), $5 for Children ages 5 and under
To reserve your tickets for payment by cash or check at Box Office on performance date:
Call 847-553-442 or email
For credit card orders, visit
Please note: reservations and Credit Card orders accepted up to 4 hours prior to show time.
A convenience fee is applied to all credit card orders at checkout.

Mary Wilson House Beyer Auditorium
part of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church Auditorium
306 S Prospect Avenue (at Crescent Avenue)
Park Ridge, IL 60068