ComposerGioacchino Antonio Rossini was born in Pesaro, Italy in 1792 to musician parents. He learned the horn and singing and began his operatic writing at the age of 18 when he wrote a one-act comedy for Venice. He began to receive further commissions from Bologna, Venice and Milan. Rossini was prolific in his writing, composing up to seven operas in the span of 16 months.
Rossini‘s operas, both buffa and seria, showed his mastery of the bel canto (beautiful singing) school of composition. With florid lines, vocal embellishments, incredible speed and spontaneity, Rossini created some of the most unforgettable music in the operatic repertoire.
His first operas to win international acclaim were the serious Tancredi (1813) and the commedia dell‘arte L‘italiana in Algeri (1813). The latter work showed Rossini‘s youthful exuberance and diligence (he completed the opera at the age of 21 and in 27 days). In 1815, Rossini was hired as musical and artistic director for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples by impresario Domenico Barbaia. He composed Elisabetta, Regina d‘Inghilterra (Elizabeth, Queen of England) for soprano, Isabella Colbran (Barbaia‘s mistress, later to become Rossini‘s wife). A rather unremarkable opera, save for the overture which Rossini borrowed from his earlier, less successful opera Aureliano in Palmira. This was a trick he would repeat less than two years later where the music would find overwhelming success as the overture to Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville).
It is quite probable that Beaumarchais‘ play Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) had already been in Rossini‘s mind as subject matter for his next opera. Barber was already a successful opera by composer Paisiello (Rossini publicly extolled the virtues of Paisiello‘s score). Within two months of signing the contract, Rossini‘ Barber was ready to premiere in Rome in 1816. The premiere was less than stellar with both stage mishaps and fervid Paisiello followers creating disturbances in the audience. Future performances were much smoother and Barber became admired by such composers as Beethoven, Verdi and Richard Strauss.
The next few years saw Otello (1816), La Cenerentola (Cinderella - 1817) and La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie 1817). By 1822, Isabella Colbran and Rossini were married although they were not happy for very long. Rossini continued composing at a dramatic rate with seven more operas between the years 1817 and 1823. In 1823, Rossini composed Semiramide based on Voltaire‘s tragedy. Isabella created the title role and it would be the last opera Rossini would compose in Italy.
The Rossinis moved to Paris in 1823 where Rossini would compose Le Siege de Corinthe (1826), Le Compte Ory (1825) and Guillaume Tell (1829). Guillaume Tell is considered to be Rossini‘s finest opera containing some of his most inspired music, elaborate orchestrations, spectacular ballets and processions. Apparently, Rossini felt this to be the pinnacle of his operatic career and at the age of 37 stopped writing opera for the remainder of his life. He and Isabella left Paris in 1837 to live in Italy where he suffered from neurasthenia (a mental disorder with psychosomatic symptoms). Isabella died in 1845 and the next year, Rossini married Olympe Pelissier. By 1855, he and Olympe returned to Paris where he seemed to regain his health and began composing again for piano and voice.
Rossini died on November 13, 1868 in Passy, France as a universally honored composer. Il Barbiere di Siviglia remains one of the most performed operas in the world and many companies are now performing and recording some of Rossini‘s more obscure works.
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