Gioachino Rossini

Rossini

Born: 29 February 1792, Pesaro, Italy
Died: 13 November 1868, Paris, France

 

“Light, lively, amusing, never wearisome but seldom exalted — Rossini would appear to have been brought into this world for the express purpose of conjuring up visions of ecstatic delight in the commonplace soul of the Average Man.”

—Stendhal

Rossini is best known and loved for his comedies, particularly The Barber of Seville and La Cenerentola.  He began his career with a series of short, one-act comic farces.  His breakthrough year as a composer was 1813, when he delivered the one-two punch of Tancredi, a serious romantic opera, and L’italiana in Algeri, full of manic zest.  He composed many of his serious, experimental masterpieces for Naples, beginning in 1816 with Otello.  These often starred Isabella Colbran, whom he married.  He moved to Paris in 1824 to become musical director of the Théâtre des Italiens, with a royal commission to compose five operas a year.  He composed only five operas for Paris – three of them recycling earlier operas – and then retired to eat, preside over salons, and commit his sins of old age.

His operas bridge the Classical and Romantic ages.  They have the poise, musical beauty and structural perfection of the eighteenth century, but also formalized the bel canto idiom that Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi would use.  He also influenced French opera, both grand and comic; Meyerbeer, Auber and Offenbach learnt from Rossini’s heroic, florid vocal style and brilliant, chattering ensembles.

There was a time when Rossini’s work lay under a cloud.  The Barber of Seville was still popular; Guillaume Tell was mentioned with respect, while the Lone Ranger galloped along to the overture; and there were occasional, very occasional, performances of one or two others.  His operas were considered unsingable, composed for bel canto voices that no longer existed: agile voices that could run up and down scales, turn somersaults, and throw off pinging high notes with aplomb.

Worse, they were inartistic.  Rossini (so critical wisdom ran) was a gifted comic musician, an entertainer, who made the mistake of trying to write serious operas (Harding, 1971).  “He had among his many gifts a genius for triviality…  To hear the overture to William Tell is always an exciting experience; to strum through half a dozen of Rossini’s forgotten operas is wearisome and monotonous” (Dent, Opera, 1949).  Bah!

Nowadays, of course, Rossini’s genius is rightly recognized.  Rossini began to be rediscovered in the 1960s, thanks to singers like Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey.  The big opera houses stage once obscure operas; a festival is held every year at his birthplace of Pesaro; and singers can once again perform Rossini’s bel canto.


OPERAS

  1. La cambiale di matrimonio (1810)
  2. L’equivoco stravagante (1811)
  3. L’inganno felice (1812)
  4. Ciro in Babilonia (1812)
  5. La scala di seta (1812)
  6. Demetrio e Polibio (1812; composed 1806–09)
  7. La pietra del paragone (1812)
  8. L’occasione fa il ladro (1812)
  9. Il signor Bruschino (1812)
  10. Tancredi (1813)
  11. L’italiana in Algeri (1813)
  12. Aureliano in Palmira (1813)
  13. Il turco in Italia (1814)
  14. Sigismondo (1814)
  15. Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra (1815)
  16. Torvaldo e Dorliska (1815)
  17. Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816)
  18. La gazzetta (1816)
  19. Otello (1816)
  20. La Cenerentola (1817)
  21. La gazza ladra (1817)
  22. Armida (1817)
  23. Adelaide di Borgogna (1817)
  24. Mosè in Egitto (1818)
  25. Ricciardo e Zoraide (1818)
  26. Ermione (1819)
  27. Eduardo e Cristina (1819)
  28. La donna del lago (1819)
  29. Bianca e Falliero (1819)
  30. Maometto II (1820)
  31. Matilde di Shabran (1821)
  32. Zelmira (1822)
  33. Semiramide (1823)
  34. Il viaggio a Reims (1825)
  35. Adina (1826, composed 1818)
  36. Moïse et Pharaon (1827)
  37. Le comte Ory (1828)
  38. Guillaume Tell (1829)