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Gioachino Rossini

Born in 1792 the Italian composer Rossini lived until he was 76 but retired from large scale composing when he was still in his 30’s and at the peak of his popularity! It is not known the reason for his early retirement. Speculation varies from ill health, to lack of necessity to work due to his early success, to the growth of the Grand Opera which was not his style. (Large scale Opera productions with a large cast and with 4 or 5 acts loosely based on historical events).

However in his short time Rossini was a prolific composer writing 39 Operas as well as chamber music, songs and piano pieces. In just 13 years between 1810 – 1823 he wrote 34 of these Operas for performances in Venice, Ferrara, Milan and Naples. It has been suggested that it might have been as a result of the sheer number that some of his pieces have a formulaic approach and certain elements appear in more than one piece.

During this time he wrote his comic Operas The Barber of Seville, La Cenerentola, L’Italiana in Algeri. He also composed more serious works such as Otello, Tancredi and Semiramide. All of them at the time were received well and admired for his innovative approach to melody and dramatic form.

With both of his parents being musicians- one a Trumpeter and one a Comic Singer in many ways it was inevitable that Rossini entered the musical word and indeed Rossini started composing at the tender age of 12 with his first Opera, La Cambiale Matrimono performed when he was 18 in Venice for the Teatro San Moise. It had no chorus, a small group of singers and consisted of a series of 1 act comic operas staged with minimal production.

His first full length Opera The Curious Misunderstanding was only performed 3 times in 1811 in Bologna before it was closed down by the Police, as it was thought to be too controversial as it touched on the theme of army desertion. Sadly the Overture music was subsequently lost, and the Opera was not performed until 2004 in USA under the name of The Bizarre Deception.

In 1812 La Scala Milan commissioned The Touchstone Opera which was deemed a great success running for 53 performances bringing him his first taste of real wealth, and the much desired title Maestro Di Cartello – Composer whose name on the marketing posters can guarantee a full house.

His first successful serious Opera La Tancredi was first performed in 1813 at La Fenice Venice and was followed by the popular L’Italiana in Algeri just weeks later kick-starting his name into the international arena further afield with his Opera productions taking place in London 1820 and even New York in 1825.

Now based in Naples (1815-) he wrote his well-known Opera The Barber of Seville for the Teatro Argentina in Rome though the first night was rather of a shambles with various mishaps, but as we all know it grew to be his most popular and famous Opera. Whilst based in Naples it was the first time that Rossini was able to work with resident singers, have proper rehearsals and not be under too much time pressure.

It was also during his time in Naples that he fell in love with the Prima Donna Singer of Teatro San Carlo Isabella Colbran and he wrote various roles for her. When the company visited Vienna in 1822 he travelled with Isabella breaking his journey in Bologna to marry her.

In Vienna he was rapturously received and 6 of his pieces were performed by the company to great acclaim. A brief return to Italy for the performance of La Fenice commissioned Opera Semiramide it became the last Italian performance of Colbran, whose voice was now beginning to deteriorate.

In 1823 they continued to London stopping for a month in Paris. However the London visit was not a success with Colbran having to officially retire and they were both relieved to return to Paris.

In 1824 at the age of 32 he was commissioned to write an opera for the coronation of Charles X in Paris which was called Il viaggio a Reims “The Journey to Reims” and still written in Italian even though was for the French King. In fact it was Rossini’s last Italian Opera with his subsequent Operas written in French.

Written for a very specific use Rossini never expected it to have longevity and so parts of The Journey to Reims were reused for his first French Opera Le Comte Ory written in 1828, as well as revisions of two of his Italian Operas, The Siege of Corinthe and Moses in Egypt, and in 1829 his last opera, William Tell his longest opera at 3 hours and 45 mins.

Writing it exhausted Rossini and they decided to go back to Bologna to recuperate but Rossini had to return to Paris when Charles was overthrown and the new regime was threatening to reduce Rossini’s lifetime annuity.

Colbran was left near Bologna and they never lived together again and she died in 1845, with Rossini marrying his mistress Pellisier the next year.

During this time between the early 1830’s to 1855 Rossini wrote very little and the Rossini’s moved between Paris, Bologna and Florence but by the early 1850’s they made their final move to Paris for medical mental attention for Rossini who was tending to serious bouts of depression, with some speculation that he may have been suffering from a Bipolar disorder.

It was noted that Rossini’s mood significantly improved on his final return to Paris where he established a regular Saturday musical salon entertainment where vocal, chamber and piano pieces were played to the fashionable and artistic elite including Verdi, Liszt and Rubinstein, and an invitation was considered the highest social prize. He wrote over 150 pieces and grouped them under the title Sins of Old Age. His last major composition The Little Solemn Mass was written in 1863, thought to have been commissioned by Count Alexis Pillet-Will for his wife Louise.

He died in 1868 after an unsuccessful operation to treat cancer.

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