As the curtain opens on Rossini's comic opera Il barbiere di Siviglia, you might expect to see a sunny Spanish street of plaster and tile. But not when the San Francisco Opera commissions architect and set designer Hans Dieter Schaal. He slices right down to the core of a concept to release its inner essences for a primal framework that projects the composer's passions and dreams and actions in elegant simplicity.

The house of Dr. Bartolo is the bustling, brawling Barber of Seville condensed into a dynamic, multifaceted cube. “The house is not a dead thing for me,” Schaal says, “it is a living thing and it takes part of my life and the life of the people in it.”

Schaal's ingenious 45,000-pound two-story unit set rotates, revealing its four facades of character and mood. “The music here is like a machine, almost like a motor. Its very lively and funny, and makes me happy,” as the aria-driven cast goes upstairs and downstairs, through rooms, and entering and exiting the house.

“In theatre,” he says, “its important to be here, in this space, for two or three hours, or five hours, and to finally see something you have never seen before.” And with Schaal's work, that's exactly what you get.